Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Crusade against ETV will impact rural, poorer public schools

Governor Nikki Haley's attack on South Carolina ETV and ETV Radio is likely to have negative repercussions on the state's poorest, youngest and most vulnerable. It's counter-intuitive that a governor elected to serve the best interests of all the people would begin her administration by knee-capping the least among us, but presumably, the knee-capping had to begin somewhere, and children can't fight back.

Thankfully, some educators can. Who would ever have pegged the state's media specialists as front-line warriors against despotism?

Educational television plays a large role in the curriculum at Crescent High School, says Deborah Jordan, the school’s media specialist.

Teachers there approach her daily for online and broadcast content from ETV, including archives of PBS programming such as “NOVA,” interactive lesson plans and educational videos.

“It’s a wealth of information,” said Jordan. “If we lose ETV, that would be devastating to public schools.”

As the Anderson Independent Mail reports, Haley wiped out the institutional wisdom of the ETV Commission in one fell swoop last week, replacing their combined experience and commitment to ETV with a collection of campaign contributors and reductionists.

Among those removed from the commission was its chairman, Robert Rainey of Anderson. The Rainey family has helped produce three major documentaries for the station, including the award-winning “Corridor of Shame” piece about failing schools along Interstate 95.

Rainey, reached at his Foothills Community Foundation office this week, said he had predicted that Haley would make some major changes in the commission. Her predecessor, Mark Sanford, had let every commissioner’s term expire, though the seven commissioners continued to serve.

Politically, the Rainey family is also at odds with Haley. Rainey’s brother John, former Board of Economic Advisors chairman under Sanford, has undertaken an investigation for several months into issues involving Haley’s employment and tax records.

Robert Rainey said his top concern about the removal of all seven commissioners simultaneously is the loss of institutional memory and continuity. ETV is a complex state agency, Rainey said, and its federal licenses require that ETV provide substantial services to education. In the absence of those, those licenses are at risk, he said.

“These new commissioners will be on a learning curve you just can’t believe,” Rainey said.

The new commissioners include a used-car salesman, a failed candidate for state superintendent of education, a campaign contributor, a former low-level political operative and three failed candidates for the legislature -- including former Rep. Joey Millwood, sports reporter for the Tryon (NC) Daily Record -- all of which "ran on platforms that espoused state-funded vouchers for private schools."

The Mail picked up this connective tissue too:

Combined, those candidates received at least $59,000 from school-voucher proponent Howard Rich of New York in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, according to state ethics records.

You'll recall that Haley instructed lawmakers in her State of the State address to eliminate state funding for ETV.

Those who travel in Haley's social circle and who breath the rarefied political air of Columbia will likely feel no pain. But children in South Carolina's public schools, particularly those in poorer, rural communities, far distant from the capital glow, will be left in the dark if ETV fails.

Since July 2009, Anderson County teachers, staff and students have used online resources from ETV 199,683 times.

Jordan’s rural school district, based in Starr and Iva, has streamed and recorded 34,000 programs since an ETV broadband portal was installed there two years ago.

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