Sun News: Education decisions disappoint

School Choice disapointment South Carolina.jpg

Columnist Issac Bailey of the Sun News editorializes on School Choice in South Carolina and Washington DC (5/16).

Education decisions disappoint

I haven’t decided whether I’m more disappointed in Gov. Mark Sanford or President Obama.

First Sanford.

In the latest school choice debate, the governor seemed all but silent. He felt it more important to hammer home his principles about limited government and tax cuts in the fight over a stimulus package he could not stop. The $700 million he has some control over may be wrestled away by the General Assembly, which passed a budget that included the stimulus money. That means a court fight is likely, one Sanford stands a good chance of losing.

Without that money, the state expects an additional 500 teachers to lose their jobs on top of 1,000 others that probably can’t be saved.

Sanford tried to use his leverage to force needed reform in state government, but he forgot one of the most important reforms, that of our educational system.

His “Put Parents First” bill of a few years ago wasn’t perfect, but it pushed the school choice debate onto the front page in a state slow to change. It would not have gotten that far without Sanford’s visible support. I like vouchers more than the tax credits he initially pushed. Still, because of his advocacy for choice, reform within the public school system happened more rapidly.

The charter school system is more robust, and the “public school choice” bill Superintendent of Education Jim Rex seems to be successfully ushering through the Statehouse probably would not have occurred at all had there not been a real school choice movement.

But this time, Sanford didn’t even seem to be in the game. The latest attempt to get the state to open educational opportunities through a tax credit that would allow some poor children to escape underfunded schools failed last week. Interest seems to have waned even as more research shows that school choice programs work.

I’m disappointed the governor wasn’t more engaged. I’m also increasingly disappointed with Obama.

During the campaign, Obama said he was committed to improving public schools. He said if the research showed choice programs working, he’d have to go with the research. He must not have taken that promise too seriously.

According to reports, the Obama girls attend a private school in the D.C. area. At least two poor students attend the same school because of vouchers.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington gives $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families. The voucher students are now a half-grade ahead of D.C. students who didn’t receive them. The gains are expected to accelerate more once the students acclimate to their new environment.

Researchers from Stanford University to Harvard have found that properly implemented school choice programs increase the educational attainment of voucher students and those in nearby public schools.

Despite that evidence, Democrats tried to kill the D.C. program with a provision in the economic stimulus bill.

Obama brought needed attention to an underfunded S.C. school in his first address before a joint session of Congress, and it’s good that he’s committed to improving public and charter schools. But it’s not enough.

Sanford and Obama chose to send their children to private schools. I have no problem with their decisions.

It’s funny, though, that while Sanford has fought – in the past, at least – to help poor kids enjoy the same opportunity his kids enjoy, Obama was mostly silent as members of his party tried to dismantle a program that gave poor students in D.C. a glimpse of the educational opportunities being afforded his daughters.

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