Jim Foster, Leave your personal politics at home

Matt Moore (S.C. Club for Growth) wrote this great opinion letter for the Times and Democrat:

Jim Foster, the chief publicist for South Carolina’s Education Department, recently attacked a non-profit group advocating education spending and enrollment reform. His letter in the Times and Democrat on Feb. 5 characterized those arguing for a more responsive and parent- centered education system as “extremists” and “zealots.”

The heart of Foster’s quarrel with school reform advocates is a disagreement over facts and figures. The State Department of Education releases its own numbers for public school allocation, spending and efficiency. These self-reported figures are — year after year — in stark contrast to similar numbers published in the State Budget and to the data released by the South Carolina Budget and Control Board. For example, Foster claims 71 cents per dollar is spent on “instruction” in public schools, while S.C. Budget and Control Board auditors report only 45 cents reaches the classroom.

As a state employee, Foster enjoys benefits that most workers in the private sector can only envy. These include robust job security, a generous pension, comprehensive health care and annual cost-of-living wage adjustments. But while working as a public employee, and being paid with tax dollars, Foster has violated certain responsibilities.

Chief among these: political non-partisanship.

Based on his statements, Foster has forgotten his job is to serve taxpayers, not attack those suggesting reforms. His ideological resistance to change, and his visceral attack on those proposing it, reflects a status quo attitude that is frustratingly commonplace in South Carolina state government. Further, Foster’s partisan public statements suggest that political ideology, rather than independent professionalism, guides his work.

The case of State Education Superintendent Jim Rex and his leadership of the status quo education establishment is particularly tragic.

While taking the banner of “for the children,” they continue to stifle much-needed reforms that will directly benefit students, parents and teachers throughout the state. Moreover, they apparently have no desire to change an educational system that continues to rank near the bottom in the nation. Thankfully, public employees at our state colleges and universities did not similarly use their public positions to fight against school choice in the form of H.O.P.E., L.I.F.E. and Palmetto Fellows Scholarships. Thousands of young college graduates, who have attended both public and private schools, owe much in gratitude to those professional public employees.

The bottom line is that South Carolina state government needs reforms in many areas, so I urge you to raise your voice to support more educational opportunities as well as smarter government, lower taxes and more personal economic freedom. Despite the efforts of some, we’re making real progress.

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