Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Charleston LWV supports "high quality" education

South Carolina's educators got a vote of support from the Charleston League of Women Voters this week. On the eve of Governor Nikki Haley's veto rampage, and Superintendent Mick Zais's announcement that he still will not pursue federal funding for public schools, Jane Pulling of the Charleston Area League of Women Voters submitted the following letter to The State, which published it this week:

The League of Women Voters supports a “high quality K-12 public education system for the children of our state.” It would appear that state Education Superintendent Mick Zais has taken the opposite position. Dr. Zais has refused to apply for federal Race to the Top funds, for which only nine states were invited to apply, rejecting the 14-3 request from the non-partisan State Board of Education to reconsider.

This is ludicrous. Funding for K-12 is at an all-time low for this century — at 1995 funding levels for a much larger student population, not to mention general cost increases. School districts cope with these draconian cuts by increasing class sizes, cutting required programs to minimal service levels, charging for athletic and other extracurricular activities, furloughing teachers and administrators, canceling summer school, virtually eliminating professional development, not replacing outdated textbooks and more. None of these steps is good for children’s education. None moves our state forward in global competition.

What is this Race to the Top program to which Dr. Zais claims so many strings are attached? The goal of the competitive grant program is “to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers.” How do you argue with those aims? It’s like opposing apple pie and the flag.

Supporting public education is not a partisan issue. 2010 grantees include North Carolina and Georgia ($400 million each) and Florida ($700 million), all of which found it in the best interests of their children to apply.

South Carolina already has met many of the requirements of this grant: We have among the most rigorous curriculum standards in the nation. We have a comprehensive assessment program that provides feedback to teachers and principals. We have a statewide data-collection system. Our school and district report cards make the data available to all stakeholders. We had, until budget cuts and Dr. Zais eliminated it, a very effective intervention program for low-achieving schools and districts. We have one of the strongest teacher evaluation systems in the nation. We already have done so much more than so many other states.

And it’s our money. Our tax dollars are paying for $1.35 billion that is going to other states. Who can look me straight in the face and say that South Carolina doesn’t need $10 million to $50 million for K-12 public education through Race to the Top funds? Apparently the person who is supposed to be leading public education in our state can. The citizens of this state need to do exactly what they did when then-Gov. Mark Sanford refused to apply for much-needed stimulus funds. They took him to court and made him do it.

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