Choice gaining bipartisan steam despite Sellers’ attacks

An “Online Extra” of the State Newspaper:
Choice gaining bipartisan steam despite Sellers’ attacks

By GLENN McCALL, Guest Columnist

The S.C. Republican Party stands behind all parents who want to choose a better education for their children — and we’re not alone.

As the astronomical human cost of our public system’s ongoing failure keeps mounting, Republicans, Democrats and independents are joining the ranks of parental choice supporters in record numbers here in the Palmetto State — and beyond.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, the first chapter in America’s emerging school choice history was written by African-American leaders in Milwaukee, Wis. — committed Democrats who were fed up with failing schools and tired of unfulfilled promises from the status quo.

Nearly two decades later, Milwaukee boasts one of most successful parental choice programs in the nation, with substantially increased graduation rates and higher percentages of children attending two-year degree programs.

Milwaukee’s success story isn’t an isolated incident, however, as early data from a successful parental choice program in Washington (first advanced by former Mayor Anthony Williams, also an African-American Democrat) shows improvements in students’ reading, safety and orderliness — all at less than half the cost of public school “tuition.”

Unfortunately, instead of supporting a parent’s right to choose (and joining what the Wall Street Journal recently referred to as “the new Civil Rights movement”), Rep. Bakari Sellers is refusing to acknowledge these success stories. In fact, he is attacking the very people fighting to give our state’s neediest children the opportunities that the public system clearly cannot provide on its own.

In his column Monday, Mr. Sellers throws numerous politically motivated jabs at Republican school choice supporters — accusing us of wanting to “dismantle public schools” in an effort to fill our campaign accounts.

Mr. Sellers also had the audacity to suggest that parental choice supporters have made our children “secondary concerns,” which strikes me as highly hypocritical coming from a politician shilling for a status quo that fails tens of thousands of additional African-American students each year.

What is Rep. Sellers’ solution to that crisis?

More money.

“They always talk about the money,” says Louisiana state Rep. Austin Badon of the status quo in his state. “They never say anything about the children and families.”

Fortunately, Rep. Badon — who is African-American — and 27 of his Democratic colleagues in the Louisiana legislature decided to give impoverished children in storm-ravaged New Orleans real choices by approving a Democratic-sponsored academic scholarship program last year.

In Pennsylvania eight years ago, African-American Sen. Anthony Williams faced tremendous criticism from the status quo when he supported education tax credits — but not anymore.

Last year, the Keystone State’s Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House extended the hugely successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit program — which has provided tens of thousands of low-income scholarships and saved the taxpayers of Pennsylvania hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Obviously, Sen. Williams has plenty of Democratic company now.

Last year in Florida a $30 million expansion of that state’s successful Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program was supported by a majority of African-American legislators, all Hispanic legislators and a third of the entire Democratic caucus.

All of these programs are successfully providing academic scholarships to low-income, minority students — a fact that obviously wasn’t lost on state Sen. Robert Ford, the former civil rights pioneer who currently is sponsoring South Carolina’s parental choice legislation.

Sen. Ford knows that approximately 247,000 of South Carolina’s 700,000 school children are stuck in failing or below average public schools — and that nearly two-thirds of those children are African-American. Worse still, the number of failing schools (and students) is on the rise, and the achievement gap between South Carolina’s white and black students is growing larger each year.

Just last month USA Today, the nation’s largest newspaper, embraced parental choice as a solution to these very problems.

“Twenty million low-income school kids (in America) need a chance to succeed,” the paper wrote. “School choice is the most effective way to give it to them.”

It is — and I am proud of the S.C. Republican Party’s platform on parental choice, which supports expanded options for all parents. I also am proud that so many of our party’s leaders are fighting for choices for low-income students.

If Rep. Sellers wants to attack us for that, he is welcome to do so — but he should recognize that he will also be attacking a growing chorus of African-American Democrats in the process.

Mr. McCall is the Republican National Committeeman for South Carolina.

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