T&D: Rethinking school choice debate

decision making School Choice

From Sunday’s (5/10) Orangeburg Times and Democrat:

Rethinking School Choice,” authored by Randy Page.

Those with the least have the most to gain from expanded educational choices.

That is why Times and Democrat editors ought to join the growing chorus of voices calling for comprehensive school choice in South Carolina.

In a recent editorial (Leaders’ dilemma … 4/24) Times and Democrat editors correctly noted that support for educational tax credits is growing among both parents and lawmakers. They observed that the South Carolina Education Opportunity Act (S. 520) was crafted to increase public school spending as children transferred out and offers students the type of access to quality public and private K-12 classrooms already provided by state scholarships for technical colleges and four-year universities.

The editors further noted that the South Carolina legislation, modeled after the best aspects of choice programs in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida, enjoys unprecedented levels of support among urban and minority parents.

Still, Times and Democrat editors hesitated to actually endorse the plan, citing the talking points of the South Carolina Education Association, the Palmetto State affiliate of the National Education Association teachers’ union. They worry that families won’t be able to “front” the money for tuition payments if a tax credit is provided months after the start of the school year.

This criticism is based on a misunderstanding of the legislation.

Low-income families − precisely those who lack the money to pay out-of-pocket for independent school tuition − would be eligible for tuition scholarships awarded by nonprofit organizations. Such programs have been very successful in other states.

Individual and corporate donations to non-profit state scholarship granting organizations are a great way for businesses and philanthropists to make targeted investments in K-12 education. And that is exactly what they have done by awarding tuition scholarships at the start of each semester. Last school year over 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 over 44,000 students. Not only have donors eagerly given money to save low-income children from failing public schools, they have also saved taxpayers money in the process.

Locally collected taxes continue to flow to public schools in full, even as there are fewer children to educate.

There are 10 failing public schools in Orangeburg County. Of the 4,600 students trapped within them, 92 percent are from low-income families and 84 percent are African-American. Year after year, these schools continue to receive students and funding regardless of their performance. Not only does school choice offer the opportunity to rescue students from these classrooms, its impact on parental expectations and facilitation of competition will startle those public schools into real reform.

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