Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do lawmakers want the state's future to be prosperous?

In a thoughtful column published today by the media consortium, Steven Smith II asks a pertinent question: Do we want South Carolina to be prosperous in its future?

MARION --Cuts, cuts, and more cuts. That has been the story of many states’ educational budgets across the nation. With the deficits of state governments soaring, it seems that states now want to cut education in an effort to reign in government spending.

Here in South Carolina, the state legislature is currently considering a wide range of spending cuts to education. Our state’s Education Oversight Committee recently issued rankings for 54 items that make up our state’s $500 million educational tab. The nonpartisan group ranked the more important items higher and the less important items lower.

According to the group’s report, teacher salaries and benefits ranked highest, followed by reading programs, services for disabled children, technology, and classroom materials. Lower ranked items included National Board Certification stipends, teacher training, supplemental funds for award-winning schools, and administrative assistance to schools with low test scores.

With South Carolina facing a $700 million deficit, something will have to be done if the state wants to continue to balance the budget. But is cutting education really the answer?

Not if you want the state to be prosperous in its future. South Carolina’s spending on higher education continues to rank second to being last among Southern states tracked by the Southern Regional Education Board. Our state’s K-12 education is also lagging behind in spending and performance. The state budget was drastically cut last year, and would have resulted in the cutting of thousands of SC teachers had it not been for federal stimulus money making up the difference. With the stimulus money nearly gone, cutting the education budget at this time would be detrimental to both teachers and students. The quality of education in SC schools would get even worse for students than it is now.

As for the teachers, many who were lucky enough to retain their jobs last year may find themselves in unemployment lines for the upcoming year. I agree with the findings of the EOC, in light of our need to retain all of our teachers and their salaries. As President Obama put it last week, “In today's economy, the quality of a nation's education is one of the biggest predictors of a nation's success. It is what will determine whether the American dream survives."

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