South Carolina Students worse off than 2 years ago

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The Times and Democrat newspaper in Orangeburg, South Carolina has published a poignant guest editorial responding to the bitter personal attacks by bureaucrat publicist Jim Foster of the State Department of Education:

Education back-and-forth misses point (link)

Regular readers of The Times and Democrat have, in recent weeks, witnessed a prolonged and abstract back-and-forth on the opinion page about public education in South Carolina.

Lost in the “he said, she said” of guest editorials, opposition editorials and letters to the editor is the real heart of the matter: the children. The facts are tragically simple: If a child is from a poor or black family, he or she is now further behind wealthy or white classroom peers than two years ago when Superintendent Jim Rex took office.

Similarly, if a child is from a wealthy family with highly educated parents, he or she is now further behind out-of-state peers than two years ago. All the major indicators — SAT, ACT, PACT, and End of Course Tests — are telling the same sad story of inequality and failure.

As public school performance plummets, spokesman Jim Foster and other handsomely paid non-teaching officials at the State Department of Education and district offices across South Carolina are seeking validation. Awkwardly, they find themselves defending teacher salary cuts and reductions in classroom supplies while consultants, contractors and bureaucrats continue to siphon away the lion’s share of taxpayer spending on public schools.

Jim Rex and Jim Foster will quibble. Rejecting the published reports of the State Budget and Control Board, they hold that 71 cents (not 45 cents) per dollar reaches the classroom. That misses the points: Either way public school bureaucrats are failing to give teachers and parents the resources they need to properly educate children in South Carolina.

The real solution to deteriorating public schools is to properly empower parents and teachers. That means more money sent to the classroom and polices that encourage and reward engaged parenting. School choice, which extends real options to all parents (rich and poor) and saves public schools money (which keep their local tax revenue) is a big part of that solution. If politicians and bureaucrats are serious in their stated commitment to children in South Carolina, they will stop their self-serving bickering about advocacy of this proven reform.

Neil Mellen is communications director for South Carolinians for Responsible Government. He is the founder of Habele, a non-profit scholarship granting organization serving low-income children in Micronesia, and a member of the South Carolina Educational Broadband Service Commission.

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