Earlier this year, Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston) announced his support for School Choice in South Carolina.
Ford made his position crystal clear: South Carolina public schools have persistently failed to properly educate low-income and minority children. A far reaching reform is required, and School Choice offers a way to engage parents and match children with classrooms suited to their needs. As Ford explained: “All of us have been defending the system. It’s time to stop. I’m not pussyfooting with this anymore.”
One of Ford’s most outspoken critics is Reverend Joseph Darby, senior pastor of the AME Morris Brown Church in Charleston, and First Vice President of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP.
Now, national expert on School Choice Andrew Coulson is engaging Rev. Draby in an online debate over the merits of School Choice. The first round of point and counter-point essays are posted on the CATO At Liberty blog.
For those who think the CATO blog is TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) here is a paragraph-by-paragraph overview of the opening arguments:
1. Ideologically, the United States is based on equality opportunity and a level playing field
2. In practice that is not how things work
3. Educational attainment and success correlate with income levels
4. The problem is systemic and minor changes won’t fix it
5. One-size-fits-all government schools will always undereducate children because they can’t/don’t respond to parents
6. That does not mean we ought to give up on public school reforms, in fact let’s hope they work
7. But we also need to give parents options in the interim, so no child has to wait for future reforms
8. I support school choice because the data shows it works
9. Others support choice for more personal reasons, and rightly see it as an opportunity equalizer
1. Charleston P&C newspaper supports School Choice but I don’t
2. Public school teachers are hard working and in one study vouchers did not raise student scores
3. School Choice will only help rich families and leave the poor children further behind
4. Inequity in education is, or at least was, the result of deliberate racism
5. The first step in improving education for historically underprivileged populations is more public spending
6. Admission of public school failure is a reason to reform the schools not “abandon” them
A few things to note:
Darby is right (point 1) that the Charleston Post and Courier did endorse the South Carolina Education Opportunity Act.
In point 2, Darby is misciting “The Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years” (link). He specifies there were no gains after two years. The researchers actually identified the gains at year three. In the executive summary it specifically notes “After 3 years, there was a statistically significant positive impact on reading test scores, but not math test scores.”
In point 3, Darby ignores the data: School Choice tax credit programs have helped tens of thousands of low-income children in other states where similar measures have been adopted. Last school year, more than 20,000 low-income students in Florida received scholarships to attend 937 different private schools through this type of program. In Pennsylvania, where the caps on donations and credits are higher, it was more than 44,000 students.
Darby may not realize (point 5) that those public schools with the lowest income students in South Carolina already tend to receive the highest per-student funding in South Carolina.
Finally, and this is the real key, Darby is simply wrong about point 6.
The Education Opportunity Act is specifically designed to increase public school per-student funding as children transfer out of public schools. As Darby understands it, money IS the same as “public support.” Based on that perspective, he ought to appreciate how similar programs in other states are proven to save money. Local School districts would enjoy more than $5,000.00 in locally raised revenue that stays in the public schools for every child that leaves. Even the South Carolina State Treasurer has endorsed the bill as a major cost-saver.