Monday, June 20, 2011

Will Haley veto a plan to grant public schoolchildren more funds?

The Aiken Standard published a note today optimistic that our schools may get $56 million out of a conference committee agreement that irons out differences in the House and Senate budget plans. But the Standard is well aware that Governor Nikki Haley issued a declaration last week that public schools should get none of the late spring's windfall tax revenues.

It happens that Aiken County stands to collect two million dollars from the total sum, if it escapes Haley's wrath. And if that happens, the local school board may not be forced to raise the local millage rate.

If a S.C. legislative budget conference committee deal holds up, school districts would get an additional $56 million to boost their per-pupil allocations, including more than $2 million for the Aiken County School District.

The additional statewide funding is roughly half of the $105 million that the S.C. Senate had inserted into its budget initially after the Board of Economic Advisors projected another $210 million in new revenue.
Earlier this week, Gov. Nikki Haley said she would veto any additional funding for education.

As The Associated Press reported, the current per-pupil school allocation is $1,617 - more than $1,100 less than the state's own funding formula. Initial budget efforts improved the allocation to $1,788. The $105 million in extra appropriations would have move it to $1,959; the $56 million agreed upon by the committee will provide $1,880 per student.

Two of Aiken County's legislative delegation are tickled pink at the prospect of avoiding a millage increase: Reps. Bill Taylor and Roland Smith. But another two, Sens. Shane Massey and Greg Ryberg, take Haley's stand: In economic times such as these, children in the public schools have to suffer like the rest, and do more with less.

Ryberg, in fact, offered a colorful metaphor to illustrate his cold-hearted and cynical attitude toward the needs of children:

"The national economy is teetering toward a return to a recession," Ryberg said. "Squirrels have the sense to keep nuts for the winter."

Yes, summertime is precisely the time for Aiken County's children to forage for nuts and tuck them away in pencil boxes for those lukewarm Aiken County winter mornings to come. Ryberg assured the Standard he supports education, and the Standard gamely quoted him so:

"I'm fully supportive of education," said Ryberg. "But it's crazy to be in the same situation and face the same problems that we had four years ago when the downturn in the economy started."

He makes an excellent point. Many's the time during Senate budget debates past, when the state's economy was pink and the coffers were full, that our grave veteran Senators have intoned, Now is no time to spend money we have and commit ourselves to greater future obligations, even for the benefit of the little children of South Carolina.

Yet many's the time during Senate budget debates past, when the state's economy was bleak and the coffers were bare, that the same grave veteran Senators have moaned, Now is no time to spend money we don't have and commit ourselves to greater future obligations, even for the benefit of the little children of South Carolina.

It seems there is no good time to commit ourselves to a greater future, if doing it requires spending money.

Unless you live in North Carolina.

Andy Brack, publisher of an intelligent product called the Statehouse Report, included a noteworthy column in a recent edition. In it, he proposed that investing with perseverance in the things that matter can yield, over time, tremendous results. This is, of course, not new wisdom; Brack quoted the ancient philosopher Aesop, and used the fable of the crow and his pebbles to illustrate his point.

It seems entirely appropriate to offer Brack's example, given Ryberg's squirrels-with-nuts tangent, and another segment of his note:

If we want to do better on any of these measures, South Carolina has to make a sustained commitment to excellence and follow through like the crow. Two examples illustrate how perseverance pays off.

First turn to North Carolina. In the 1950s, some of Tarheel state's numbers, particularly on poverty and education, were as bad as -- if not worse -- than South Carolina's. But an inspirational leader, Terry Sanford, mustered the political muscle to invest big in public education, particularly at the university level. And a group of business, political and academic leaders worked together to create a research and development park that blended the resources of universities with the corporate sector. The result? Research Triangle Park, now the home to more than 170 global companies.

How did it happen? North Carolina's leaders dreamed, adopted a shared vision and persevered to make it happen.

A second example comes from the world of politics. Following Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and the idealism of John F. Kennedy, Great Society naysayers concocted a political vision espousing government was bad for America. With the Watergate scandal injecting cynicism in a country still smarting from the clashes of the 1960s, the political environment was ripe for the message by Ronald Reagan that "government is the problem." In the years that followed, many politicians blindly adopted the mantra that the only way to get what's needed in America was to cut taxes, cut more taxes and cut more taxes -- to, in fact, cut government so much that conservative tax-hater Grover Norquist could "drown it in a bathtub."

The moral is that conservatives adopted a once-controversial political vision, but kept plugging away at it for years until that vision became the vision of the majority.

But in 2011, a vision to continue to cut taxes more is becoming ridiculous. With South Carolina having the dubious distinction of taking in the lowest amount of taxes per capita according to the Tax Foundation, we don't have much fat to cut. We're cutting into the bone.

Our state's leaders need to comprehend that South Carolina needs transformational change to survive. To persist in cuts on top of cuts will lead us to becoming a third-world state.

The root of the word "fable" is Latin and means "story." The word "fabulous" has the same root. If we want South Carolina's future story to be fabulous, we've got to become the crow and work hard to shrug off the hangovers of the past. Invest perseveringly. Dum spiro spero.

Of course, I prefer Brack's example to Ryberg's.

The question is, Is Nikki Haley going to be crow with wisdom, or a squirrel hoarding nuts?

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