Sunday, August 21, 2011

Congratulations, music teacher/band director George Wenger

This weekend, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported that two area students, Andrew Fierova and Taylor Peterson, have been selected to attend Juilliard School, a private conservatory for the performing arts, in New York City.

Peterson, 18, will enter the freshman class in September, and Fierova, who turns 22 Monday, was admitted to the graduate school.

Applicants to this school have a six percent acceptance rate, so to have two students from the same area be accepted at the same time is rare. Rarer still, both had attended Dorman High School in Roebuck for at least part of their high school education. And rarer again, both were students of music instructor and band director George Wenger.

What sweet vindication of a long and storied career as a public school instructor, and what tremendous reward for mastery of craft, to have two students accepted at the same time to the nation's premier school for the performing arts.

Wenger, now retired from teaching in public schools, is band director at Converse College.

Mr. Wenger taught in the public schools for 44 years before his retirement in June 2010, after 6 years at Dawkins Middle School. He taught one year in Carlisle, PA, 19 years at Tennessee High School in Bristol, TN., and was the band director of Dorman High School and the District Six Band Coordinator for 18 years. Under his leadership, both Tennessee High School and Dorman High School were highly successful in state and national competitions. The concert bands had years of consecutive superior ratings. On several occasions, Mr. Wenger received the Citation of Excellence Award from the National Band Association. His latest award was presented on March 12, 2011 when he was inducted into the International School Bandmaster Fraternity Hall of Fame. He is currently the director of the Lawson Band at Converse College, and teaches some 40 private brass lessons each week.

In 1996 Mr. Wenger was chosen teacher of the year at Dorman High School and Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year. In 1997 he was chosen as an Honored Teacher by The Huntington Learning Center in recognition of dedication to the teaching profession and contributions that went beyond the call of duty. Through the years he has served as both a clinician and adjudicator of bands in South Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. He is a member of Phi Beta Mu, an honorary band directors association, the South Carolina Education Association, South Carolina Band Director’s Association, and the MENC.

Mr. Wenger was named the director of the Spartanburg Community Band in July of 2004 and retired in July 2011.

In its item on Wenger's students and their acceptance to Juilliard, the Herald-Journal wrote:

Both students said they are grateful for the instructors who have spent countless hours providing guidance and instruction. They said George Wenger, a retired band director at Dorman High School, gave them with private lessons and was instrumental in helping them achieve their goals.

“There is good instruction to be had if you want it,” Fierova said. “We got a lot of instruction outside of Spartanburg but also some good instruction here.”

Wenger said he is proud and flattered that his formal pupils were accepted to such a prestigious school.

“They were great students,” Wenger said. “I am very proud of them.”

Wenger said his advice to his former students would be to work hard and try out for all the professional organizations they can.

“They will be in a place where they can make a good living with their instruments, so I encourage them to do all they can,” he said.

To have prepared two students to gain acceptance to Juilliard in no small feat.

On its website, Juilliard said its mission “is to provide the highest caliber of artistic education for gifted musicians, dancers and actors from around the world, so that they may achieve their fullest potential as artists, leaders, and global citizens.”

More than 800 artists from 44 states and 46 foreign countries attend Juilliard.

Mr. Wenger, congratulations on a terrific achievement. You're a great example to educators across South Carolina and beyond.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Purge at ETV is no surprise, thanks to Haley board

I'm still curious about The State's coverage of the recent purge of 17 employees from South Carolina Educational Television. Writer Gina Smith covered the subject a couple of weeks ago with a slight tone of surprise:

ETV may have won its veto war with Gov. Nikki Haley, but it still is losing employees.

Educational Television said Tuesday it is eliminating 15 full-time and two part-time positions because of a 10 percent cut in its state budget and other funds, including federal grants. Also, six additional positions that are open will not be filled.

That leaves fewer than 150 employees at the state’s public educational broadcasting network, which also, among other things, offers a multimedia educational system to more than 2,500 of the state’s schools, colleges, businesses and government agencies.

Smith quoted SCETV's spokesman, Rob Schaller, explaining as blithely as possible that the job cuts would be implemented so as not to negatively impact SCETV's core services.

And while Schaller reported that the job cuts came from across the agency, he took pains to note that Mark Quinn, longtime and well-known former host of SCETV's "The Big Picture," had not been purged.

But Smith cast her story as news because the legislature voted to override Her Excellency Nikki Haley's veto of SCETV's budget. Her takeaway seemed to be that Haley lost that battle but may be winning her war against SCETV anyway.

No kidding.

Yes, Haley's succeeding in her attack on SCETV, and in her purge of its workforce, not because she attempted to slash its budget but because she exercised a dangerous executive power earlier this spring: She wiped clean the SCETV Commission and installed her own minions in its seats, utterly and completely, overnight, tout de suite.

In one fell swoop, she replaced an experienced, veteran board of directors with a band of green johnny-come-latelies whose only credit was their collective support for Haley and her ideology.

And, indeed, it was reported by The State, under the headline "Steep learning curve for new leaders at ETV." The handwriting was on the wall, folks. And there's still a lot of it left there.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s clean sweep of ETV’s board means a group with little institutional knowledge will plot Educational Television’s future through what Haley promises will be major changes.

Fresh perspectives sometimes can be a positive, ETV backers acknowledged Friday. But they also expressed concern the new commission members will make course-changing decisions about ETV’s future without a solid understanding of its past.

For example, Haley has pledged to cut public money that goes to ETV.

“What worries me is if people go in there thinking they know what ETV means, thinking it’s just ‘Masterpiece Theater,’ and they make decisions without being educated,” said Caroline Whitson, president of Columbia College and the fundraising ETV Endowment Board. “They could make decisions that long-term have very detrimental effects on this state without realizing what they’ve done.”

Indeed, Ms. Whitson. No better explanation could be offered for the significance of Haley's action. And no better illustration that elections have consequences.

Let's recall why SCETV is important to South Carolina in the first place:

ETV, created in 1960, operates a statewide network of 11 television stations, eight radio stations and a closed-circuit telecommunications system.

Its system allows rural students to tap into lessons otherwise unavailable to them. Teachers and law enforcement agencies also rely heavily on ETV for training sessions. No other broadcast media has such statewide reach, which is important in emergency situations, Whitson said.

The programming on ETV and ETV Radio is paid for by donations, but state money pays for the agency’s buildings and equipment, and the salaries of nearly 170 employees.

South Carolinians -- their families, their children -- who lacked easy access to cities and cultural resources found there, could collect some small degree of self-improvement through the content delivered by SCETV, regardless of where they lived in the state. Because SCETV's mission was not motivated by profit, it could take time, develop content and focus on the dissemination of high-quality programming.

And its Commission, stocked with highly-qualified professionals who understood and supported SCETV's mission, was there to guide it.

Not anymore.

ETV president Linda O’Bryon, hired last year, runs ETV’s day-to-day operations. The ETV Commission — seven members appointed by the governor along with the state superintendent of education — sets policy.

Commissioners have staggered six-year terms, designed to prevent just the kind of clean sweep that Haley made. But former Gov. Mark Sanford made only two appointments to the board, and those were early in his eight-year term. As a result, the terms of many of the commission’s seven members had expired, but they continued serving.

Robert Rainey of Anderson, removed this week as the commission’s chairman, said he asked Sanford to name new board members, but the former governor “did not see it was a priority.”

Haley has the right to name a new board which shares her approach to ETV, said Rainey, brother of Haley critic John Rainey.

Yes, that John Rainey, the one who has called Haley the most corrupt person to occupy the Governor's Mansion since Reconstruction. Harsh words, from someone who has been part of South Carolina's ruling class for a long, long time.

But, Robert Rainey added, turning over the entire board at once “is unfortunate because there’s zero continuity. (superintendent of education) Dr. (Mick) Zais has been to one meeting.”

O, how could we forget. General Mick Zais, our su-pretendent of education, occupies one of the seats on the Commission, too. So much for the "educational" quality of South Carolina Educational Television.

The new commissioners face a steep learning curve, Rainey said.

“I don’t think the general public — outside of K-12 (teachers and administrators), law enforcement and the Legislature — really understands what ETV does,” Rainey said. “They think we’re really just radio and broadcasting, and that’s like looking only at the part of the iceberg above water.”

And who exactly did Haley install in the place of SCETV's veteran commissioners?

Besides new chairman Nelson, a political science professor at Furman University, the other new commission members are Jill Kelso of Murrells Inlet, Elise Bidwell of Columbia, Zeda Homoki of Aiken, Joseph Millwood of Landrum, Robert McCoy of Heath Springs and Nicole Holland of Columbia.

Haley’s appointments include a number of GOP politicians. Nelson originally said he would to run for governor in 2010, then switched to the superintendent of education’s race, finishing fifth in a six-candidate Republican primary. Millwood is a former member of the S.C. House who lost a re-election bid in 2010. McCoy also lost a 2010 House race.

The commissioners they replace include Rainey and former Sanford staffer Chris Drummond, Sanford’s two appointees, and five pre-Sanford holdovers.

Another media outlet published a bit more detail on the new commission:

Dr. Brent Nelsen, Greenville -appointment to the At-large Chair seat with a term of 6/23/08 to 6/23/14. He took the expired seat of Robert Rainey of Anderson. Nelsen is chair of the political science department at Furman University. He received his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College and a PhD in Political Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the President of the South Carolina Political Science Association and is an elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Travelers Rest.

Jill Kelso, Murrells Inlet - appointment to the 1st District seat with a term of 6/23/10 to 6/23/16. She took the expired seat of Christopher Drummond of Mt. Pleasant. She graduated with a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh.

Elise Bidwell, Columbia - appointment to the 2nd District seat with a term of 6/23/10 to 6/23/16. She took the expired seat of David (Chris) Goodall of Columbia. Bidwell graduated with a B.S. from NC State and currently is a financial advisor at Edward Jones.

Zeda Homoki, Aiken - appointment to the 3rd District seat with a term of 6/23/06 to 6/23/12. She took the expired seat of William Self of Greenwood. Homoki has a B.S. from the University of Houston. She has lived in South Carolina for 7 years and is currently retired.

Joseph Millwood, Landrum - appointment to the 4th District seat with a term of 6/30/08 to 6/30/14. He took the expired seat of Wendell Cantrell of Spartanburg. Millwood graduated in 2005 from USC Upstate and is currently working toward his Master's degree. Millwood is former SC House member. He currently is a freelance writer for the Spartanburg Herald and The Tryon Daily Bulletin.

Rob McCoy, Heath Springs - appointment to the 5th District seat with a term of 6/23/10 to 6/23/16. He took the expired seat of Thomas Brown from Sumter. McCoy owns a small business, McCoy Motors out of Lancaster.

Nicole Holland, Columbia - appointment to the 6th District seat with a term of 6/30/08 to 6/30/14. She took the expired seat of Lee Gaillard from Charleston. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and African American Studies. She currently is the Director of Communications for the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Solicitor's Office.

And Haley's man Godfrey was tickled to report that Haley was "excited to have found a group of appointees who share her priorities and vision for ETV."

Blogger Jamie Sanderson addressed the nature of those priorities and vision here.

A quick look at the SCETV Commission's current webpage, however, shows that the Fourth Congressional District is now represented by Karen Martin of Woodruff rather than Millwood. There was apparently no public announcement of Martin's appointment, and no public explanation of Millwood's replacement. Martin, it appears, is the organizer of the Spartanburg Tea Party but has no other discernible experience in public service.

But others have tried. Nelsen, for example, was once a candidate for state superintendent of education, though his professional background was in political science, not education. McCoy, a Tea Party activist, was a candidate for state Senate once. Kelso ran for state House once and collected campaign contributions from voucher proponent Howard Rich.

Since the SCETV Commission does have responsibility for promoting education in the state, here's another interesting aspect of Haley's choices. Only one member holds a degree from a college or university in South Carolina: Holland, a USC graduate. And one other member was educated in South Carolina's public schools: McCoy, who graduated from Andrew Jackson High School in Lancaster County.

There's no accessible data on Homoki or Martin, so their educational backgrounds are uncertain.

Homoki, an Aiken retiree, is listed as a donor ($1-$149) to the Friends of USC-Aiken in 2009-2010, but it's unclear if she is an alumna. What's crystal-clear is her devotion to Haley, as noted in the Aiken Chronicle this week:

Zee Homoki voted for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley because of what she promised during her campaign. Now in the first year of her term, Homoki says Haley has kept each of those promises and then some.

“I really think she’s awesome,” Homoki said at the Aiken Republican Club meeting on Tuesday. Haley was the keynote speaker.

Homoki saw Haley at a luncheon more than two years ago and said she immediately knew Haley was a standout candidate.

“We can’t say enough about her,” Homoki said.

Indeed, though it was so little, that is quite enough.

In the final analysis, with one or two exceptions, Haley has seated a group of commissioners who largely share her view of government, who largely share no deep or meaningful devotion to South Carolina's people or culture, but who share an activist urge to shrink the agency and privatize its services.

“We’re going to find ETV thinking more and more like a business,” commission chairman Nelson said, adding would free the millions in state money that previously went to ETV to go, for example, police officers. “All we’re talking about is finding other ways to fund it so the taxpayers can have some relief.”

So the purge of 17 positions should come as no surprise, and those who survived this cut should expect more rounds of cuts to come.

Elections have consequences, and these are unpleasant. As the Irish say, What cannot be cured must be endured.

Congratulations to Darlington Superintendent Rainey Knight

It appears that Darlington's public schools have discovered and are using some effective strategies to reduce its high school dropout rate. The question for the rest of us is, What is Darlington -- and Superintendent Rainey Knight -- doing that can be replicated elsewhere?

The Darlington County School District lowered its high school dropout rate by 0.2 percentage points in 2009 – 2010 from 1.4 percent to 1.2 percent, the seventh lowest rate in the state among South Carolina’s 85 public school districts, according to data released by the S.C. Department of Education.

South Carolina’s high school dropout rate for grades nine through 12 decreased from 3.4 percent to 2.9 percent in 2009 – 2010.

Since 2006 – 2007, Darlington County’s dropout rate for grades nine through 12 has declined from 2.7 percent to 1.2 percent, according to State Department figures. The state’s rate for the same period has dropped from 3.8 percent to 2.9 percent.

“We’re very excited about the improvement in our dropout rate,” said Superintendent of Education Dr. Rainey Knight. “This is one additional factor that shows we’re doing a much better job helping our students stay in school and continue their education until they graduate from high school. I’m very proud of the job our teachers are doing.”

A cursory glance at what Superintendent Rainey Knight told the Florence Morning News shows at least one strategy in effect: Giving education professionals respect and praise for their work.

I wish the Morning News had focused more on Darlington's successful strategies than it did. Rather, it asked for input from General Mick Zais, state su-pretendent of education, and published a paragraph of his talking points.

As Superintendent Knight is the chief educational officer of her district, and her district appears to be making strides in this area, I hope the Morning News will look for another opportunity soon to ask Knight, and the education professionals in her schools, for more information about their most effective dropout prevention strategies.

Congratulations to technology grant winners

Congratulations are in order for seven school districts:

Seven South Carolina school districts are sharing $1.3 million in federal technology grants.

The state education department's Office of eLearning said Tuesday the seven winners are receiving between $120,000 and $240,000 each.

The districts are Bamberg 1, Colleton County, Dillon 3, Dillon 4, Horry County, Lexington 2, and Marion 7.

The grants are part of the Enhancing Education Through Technology program. Its goals include increasing student achievement through technology and ensuring students are technologically literate by high school.

The U.S. Department of Education distributes the money.

The state agency says it picked the winners from among more than 40 applications

Educators opposed Haley Public Employment Tax

After writing last night about the Haley Public Employment Tax -- the 4.5 percent tax levied by the Budget and Control Board last week against all public employees in the form of an unnecessary health insurance premium increase -- I learned this morning that representatives of one educator organization -- but only one -- was present and "opposed the increase in the strongest terms."

The South Carolina Education Association, in its "Member Matters" newsletter last week, wrote to its members,

It was a stunning slap across the face of every SC public school and state employee. After years of furloughing, firing, and finding fault with its own school and public employees, yesterday South Carolina, through its Budget and Control Board (BCB), summarily penalized state and public school employees and retirees with a whopping 4.5% increase in their health care insurance costs, effective January 1, 2012. They slapped taxpayers with an additional 4.5% premium increase for their public employees. The Board is composed of Governor Nikki Haley, Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, and Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom.

The SCEA lobbying team was present and opposed the increase in the strongest terms, but regretfully, it was the only education association to do so.

Why wouldn't every organization representing educators have taken a stand against this tax on public employees? Why was The SCEA the only one to speak up?

According to The SCEA, the Budget and Control Board, chaired by Her Excellency Nikki Haley, isn't through attacking public employees. Next stop: Pensions.

The SCEA believes that even this abuse is not sufficient to mollify Governor Haley and her allies’ determination to punish public employees. They are now looking for ways to attack the state’s employee pension plan and reduce members’ pensions. All school employees should be on the alert for further information from The SCEA. Members should encourage their colleagues to join the association today.

The organization seems to be building relationships with some leaders who don't see eye-to-eye with Haley -- including Eckstrom and Loftis.

In the last election, The SCEA supported and recommended that its members support Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom. Our perception of him as a friend of public education was confirmed yesterday when he, as a member of the BCB, proposed a lower increase--3.5%--and pointed out that even that amount was more than the law requires. Only Treasurer Loftis supported his proposal. The positive impact of member participation in campaigns and elections cannot be overstated. We ask all members to carefully review The SCEA’s candidate recommendations next November and work to support true friends of education.

Guess this means Loftis still isn't on Haley's Christmas card list, and isn't trying hard to get there.

Teachers facing uphill battles as school year begins

National Public Radio did a service last week by highlighting the mood of teachers as they return to the classroom this month. And thank goodness for NPR; when was the last time your local newspaper surveyed the mood of teachers, asked them to comment on what's happening to them, published much more than a political cartoon at their expense?

As students prepare to begin another school year, their teachers are hopping mad. They're facing layoffs and deep budget cuts and many say they're tired of being blamed unfairly for just about everything that's wrong in public education. They're so mad that many are bypassing their unions and mounting a campaign of their own to restore the public's faith in their profession.

Betsy Leis, a middle school teacher in Florida, is one of these angry teachers.

"I give my heart and my soul to every single student in my classroom and all I see on the news is that we aren't doing our job. We're constantly beat down. That's why I'm angry," Leis says. "I don't make any money and part of me is OK with that because I don't do it for the money."

And it's not enough that people don't appreciate teachers, they've become punching bags, says Claudia Rueda-Alvarez, a high school counselor in Chicago.

She says if people believe this country is going down the tubes, why don't they single out the people on Wall Street who are still getting million dollar bonuses?

"But everybody seems to be talking about a teacher making $50,000 to 60,000 a year — 'Oh my God, greedy teachers!' — so that passion that I feel for my profession will not be taken away by fear. If anything, it energizes me more," Rueda says.

This energy and need among teachers to speak out is not just in a few places. It's all over the country.
The consensus though is that the Obama administration's education policies are no less prescriptive or punitive than the much maligned No Child Left Behind law. And high stakes tests are undermining quality instruction and good teachers, especially if test results are used to evaluate teachers or decide how much they should be paid.

"Testing is a more of a means of addressing the accountability issue despite the way it's been portrayed," says Joe Williams, who heads the Democrats For Education Reform, a liberal lobbying group that focuses on teacher quality issues.

Williams says no one is trying to punish teachers or make testing more important than children. The problem is that this discussion is taking place in a very polarized political climate.

"The notion that education reform could get wrapped up so closely with attempts to eliminate collective bargaining has made it very difficult to have this conversation all over the country," Williams say.

But it's not just about politics, says Mike Petrilli of the conservative Fordham Institute.

"The reason that these debates are happening now is because of the economy. You see policymakers seeing that this crisis is an opportunity to fix some things that have been broken for a long time," Petrilli says.

Petrilli says tenure and seniority policies are good examples. With teacher layoffs on the horizon, how do you decide who to let go?

"It has never made sense to say that when layoffs are necessary, we're going to get rid of the youngest teachers, regardless of effectiveness. How that could possibly be good for kids? That's crazy," Petrilli says.

And yet, at the beginning of the year, Petrilli says, 14 states mandated that layoffs be based on seniority, not effectiveness. The other huge issue that doesn't get nearly as much attention is the teacher pension crisis.

"Many teachers teach for 30 years and then retire for 30 years and for those 30 years, they're making 60 or 70 or 80 percent of their salary indexed to inflation. This is like the Social Security debate. At some point the numbers just don't add up," Petrilli says.

That's why state lawmakers are asking teachers to put more of their own pay into their pensions and health care benefits, which teachers view as attack on their profession.

As for the broader education debate, Petrilli and others agree that Washington will remain in gridlock and the big education battles on the horizon are going to play out in the states.

"This is where teachers unions are at their strongest and this is where you've got some of these bold Republican governors who are ready for a fight," Petrilli says.

Just in time for the 2012 election.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

'Haley Public Employment Tax' levied on public employees

From the beginning of her political career -- seems like only months ago -- Governor Nikki Haley has made it clear that she thinks taxes are too high and should be cut.

Which made it stunning news last week to hear that she had initiated, supported and led passage of a brand-new tax on public employees. Apparently, some taxes are good and fine, depending on who is subject to pay them.

This is a tax that only affects public employees, so it is appropriate to call it a Public Employment Tax.

And, as Haley was its inventor, it's entirely appropriate to call it the Haley Public Employment Tax.

It will be interesting to hear Haley deny that it's a tax of her invention; I understand that the proposal came to the Budget and Control Board as an agenda item from her board staff, she gives final approval to the agenda, she chose the director of the board, and she chairs the board. Therefore, it's her proposal, and she led it through to passage by the board.

So the Haley Public Employment Tax is hers to own.

I've read and re-read the coverage by The State to understand this tax:

Families covered by the state’s health insurance plan will pay $143 a year more for health insurance under a new plan approved Tuesday by the State Budget and Control Board.

The 9 percent increase will be spread equally between employees and employers, with each paying 4.5 percent more.

But why was nine percent necessary? According to the board's consultants, only 4.5 percent was necessary, and that was fully funded in the budget this year. Why was it necessary to tax public employees another 4.5 percent out of their pockets?

We have never increased rates unnecessarily. This is the first time. It is unprecedented in state government,” said Sam Griswold, president emeritus of the State Retirees Association. “To me, you are building a profit into the system.”

Haley denied the system was turning a profit, saying any money left over automatically goes to pay down state pension debt.

Pension debt? Has anyone ever heard of this? If the system is fully funded and healthy, there shouldn't be any such thing as pension debt, should there? Which means that the additional 4.5 percent tax on public employees' salaries is, in fact, a profit to the system.

The insurance plan insures 408,605 people, close to 10 percent of the state’s population. That includes employees, retirees and their families. In addition to state employees, the plan also covers teachers and some employees for local governments and school districts.

Employees covered by the plan were hit with huge increases in the mid 2000s, including a 39.6 percent increase in 2003, according to the Budget and Control Board. Historically, employers – the state, city, county or school system – have borne the brunt of premium increases, with nine increases since 1999. Employees’ costs only have been increased five times since 1999, the last one coming in 2005.

Only five times since 1999? That's five times in 12 years, or, an average of slightly less than every other year during that period.

Henry Price, a retired USC journalism professor, attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear for himself the future of his health insurance premiums. He said he pays about $250 a month for his and his wife’s health insurance, and the increases will add an extra $120 a year to his bill.

“I think 3 1/2 (percent) covers the problem. Four-and-a-half is adding extra money into the system,” Price said. “You can say, ‘Well, it’s just pennies.’ But pennies mount up.”

Quite right. And the net result is going to be that next legislative session, when budget writers see that the health plan is now receiving a profit thanks to the Haley Public Employment Tax, they're going to feel compelled to take back some of the state's employer contribution. Mark my words.

Well, that was The State's coverage, but I trust what Sam Griswold says about public employment and employee benefits. He's the president emeritus of the Retired State Employees Association, and beyond that, he's neck-deep in experience working with the Budget and Control Board and the state treasury.

"The premise of our concern with the increase in health insurance premiums of 4.5% is that they were not needed to fund the program and were thus unnecessary," Sam wrote in a message to retired state employees and others last week.

Sam is so well-versed in this business that he prepared data to present to the Budget and Control Board last week -- but his data never made it into the agenda materials given to the board members, and were not posted on the board's website.

Want to see his data document for yourself?

Griswold PageAnd here's his explanation of it:

I will explain this page to you and show you why this increase was not needed.

Focus on the two columns labeled Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 (s1 and s2). S1 assumes the imposition of the 4.5% employee rate increase. S2 assumes NO rate increase. The program is required by law to maintain a reserve fund to pay claims for up to 45 days in case an epidemic occurs or some other projection of claims costs is in error. The first line is the amount of that reserve fund being carried over from 2011. The second line is the amount available to pay claims. The difference between the two columns is $19 million and represents the increase of 4.5% from employees in s1.

The third line is interesting. This line transfers $158.9 million out of plan income to the Other Post Employment Benefits Trust Fund. This Fund was set up a couple of years ago to conform to new government accounting standards requiring that the projected cost of providing health insurance to retirees be included in the State's liabilities on its balance sheet. This fund was set up to reflect that the State acknowledged this liability. The law states that each year any funds not needed to run the insurance program will be transferred into the OPEB fund. Last year the transfer was $16 million. So this year, 2012, in this particular line, is $158.9 million not needed to run the insurance program.

Go to the last line in the top box. This is the amount we have available in 2012 to pay claims. S1 is $19 million larger than s2. Your increase.

The second line in the second box shows how much we expect to pay in claims. Subtracting the claims from the revenue ends up with Projected Ending Claims Reserve at 12/31/2012. That amount is $233 million in s1 and $214 million in s2 (your $19 million showing up again and it has NOT been spent). This is the amount of the operating reserve that is supposed to be able to fund an additional 45 days of claims payments if needed.

Now the fun part: go to the bottom line of the third box. This line tells you how many days of reserve we have and the excess days that are funded. Under s1, we see 51.8 days which is 6.8 days more than the 45 day reserve required by law. Under s2 (remember this is the figure with NO rate increase) we see 47.6 days which is 2.6 days more than the 45 day reserve needed.

THE CONCLUSION: Had no increase been imposed on employees/retirees, the program would have had enough funds to pay every claim, maintain an operating reserve that complies with state law--even exceeds it, and still transfer a record amount of $158.9 million into the OPEB Trust Fund. The 4.5% increase on employees/retirees was not needed.

Sam Griswold is no joke.

The same cannot be said for those occupying our seats of power.

So, I wondered if my interpretation of the Haley Public Employment Tax was accurate. And Sam said, "It was an increase not needed by the program to operate at full funding. It is the imposition of a tax."

So there is a tax that Haley has found she can love and can raise. It happens to be levied against all the men and women who do the state's work for meager compensation, and pray daily not to get sick and require health care provided by the state's ever-more-costly, ever-weakening health plan.

Wilkerson, Morrison discuss migration and civil rights

The Riley Institute and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Furman University hosted a fascinating discussion on equality and civil rights on Tuesday, the last of a four-part summer series there. Furman President Rod Smolla opened the evening with a great presentation on civil rights in contemporary America, seen through the lens of recent Supreme Court rulings and arguments on affirmative action. But the second half of the evening, moderated by former SCETV host Mark Quinn, made for compelling listening.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson and Columbia attorney Steve Morrison shared thoughts on the meanings of freedom and civil rights through their own works; Wilkerson is the author of "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration," and Morrison was co-lead counsel in Abbeville v State of South Carolina, a school-funding equity case that has become epic in its own right.

Rather than read a summary of their presentations, click through the videos to watch them for yourself.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Wake County, NC, offers a lesson to South Carolinians

A friend sent a link to this short film about what's happened to the Wake County Public Schools system in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Wake system has built a reputation for school quality with a deep and abiding focus on inclusivity and socioeconomic integration as part of its district assignment policies. But that has changed in the last two years, as a political organization has inserted itself and its ideology into the school system through the local school board.

I considered whether or not it's really applicable to South Carolina, as our state never made a similar commitment to the spirit of integration. In fact, our leaders fought tooth and nail for as long as possible to prevent integration, then dragged our collective feet until the U.S. Supreme Court ordered us to make it happen. And through the present day, though we operate under the letter of the law, we certainly have encouraged and supported the efforts of groups and communities to build and operate racially-segregated academies. So in this regard, we're quite unlike Wake County in North Carolina.

But I decided to include this note because South Carolina -- thanks to our lingering lust for free market economics and Libertarian politics -- is fertile ground for interlopers who come bearing campaign contributions. Howard Rich is a prime example; would Joey Millwood have ousted former longtime Rep. Bob Walker of Landrum, and would Millwood now sit on the SCETV Board of Directors, without Rich's campaign aid?

No, Millwood and others are examples -- like Wake County, now -- of what happens when we all fall asleep at the switch.

So, enjoy.

Schools to be used as cultural battlefields all over again

Silly season is definitely here now. Slate magazine has posted an item on the significance of Michele Bachmann's rise in political power, and it has a lot to do with public education. Naturally, this means that educators should pay attention, if they're not already. If you wade through the political stuff, you'll find in the Slate article a number of issues that raise important and scary questions for all of us.

Michele Bachmann's victory in the Iowa straw poll Saturday represents many obvious things: the mainstreaming of the Tea Party, the overnight ordinariness of female presidential candidates, the increasing irrelevance of also-ran moderates like Jon Huntsman. But her growing popularity among the Republican base also signals something that's been less widely acknowledged: a sea change in the party's education agenda. It's safe to say that the political era of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind is now officially over, even as the law's testing mandates continue to reverberate in classrooms across the country.

As recently as a decade ago, Republicans like George W. Bush, John McCain, and John Boehner embraced bipartisan, standards-and-accountability education reform as a pro-business venture, a way to make American workers and firms more competitive in the global marketplace. Now we are seeing the GOP acquiesce to the anti-government, Christian-right view of education epitomized by Bachmann, in which public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation's youth.

This echoes what Rick Santorum has been saying in his stops in South Carolina and Iowa, that early childhood education is "government indoctrination," rather than preparation for schooling.

Against a backdrop of Tea Party calls to abolish the Department of Education and drastically cut the federal government's role in local public schools, Rep. John Kline, the moderate chairman of the House education and workforce committee, has refused to engage in productive negotiations with the Obama administration on how to update and reauthorize the troubled No Child Left Behind law. If it is not rewritten to emphasize academic growth instead of raw test score goals, up to 80 percent of American schools could be labeled "failing" this school year, because less than 100 percent of their native-born American students have reached "proficiency" on reading and math tests.

Shades of what is already happening here!

Bachmann stands at the forefront of the GOP's shifting allegiances on education. Like many female elected officials before her, she first got involved in politics as a mother concerned about local public schools. (Though Bachmann home-schooled her biological children, the family's 23 foster children attended public schools.)

I wonder why she home-schooled her own, but sent her 23 foster children to public schools?

As Ryan Lizza described in his recent New Yorker profile, in 1993, Bachmann, then an IRS-lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, co-founded a charter school whose curriculum was built around evangelical Christian themes such as creationism. Several years later, she went on to run unsuccessfully for the Stillwater, Minn., school board as one member of a five-person Christian conservative block. The group campaigned on the expected culture war issues, such as abstinence-only sex education, but also on a more esoteric platform: opposition to state education standards and to federal vocational education programs.

As her political career advanced, the overarching theme of Bachmann's education activism was that government attempts to improve schools threatened the prerogatives of the Christian family and represented a dangerous move toward a socialized, planned economy. In 2001, she charged that the 1994 federal School to Work Opportunities Act, which provided funding for low-income teenagers to do on-the-job apprenticeships with local companies, would turn students into "human resources for a centrally planned economy." As a state senator in 2002, Bachmann produced a bizarre film called Guinea Pigs II, which compared Minnesota's Profile of Learning curriculum standards—instituted in 1998 by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson—to Nazism and communism. As Tim Murphy of Mother Jones wrote of Bachmann last week, "She was Tea Party before the Tea party was cool. In 2002, with a Republican president in the White House and the Tea Party a full seven years away, she cited the 9th and 10th amendments while railing against No Child Left Behind as an unconstitutional abuse of power."

Bachmann wasn't the only Christian conservative local politician making these anti-education reform arguments in the 1990s. Rather, from the beginning of her activist career, she was part of a national "parental rights" movement organized by groups such as Focus on the Family and the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund. Like Bachmann, Sarah Palin was a foot soldier in this movement. According to an account local political activist Phillip Munger gave Salon, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin promoted a group of Christian right school board candidates. She also explored the possibility of banning "offensive" books from the town's public library.

Banning "offensive" books. Could book-banning come to South Carolina?

These Christian right organizations lobbied against curriculum standards and state and federal regulation of home-schoolers, and recruited thousands of school board candidates—many of them churchgoing moms like Bachmann—in an attempt to wield influence over curricula and textbooks.

This sounds an awful lot like Kristin Maguire, Mark Sanford's appointee to the State Board of Education. Though she home-schooled her children, she became the chair of the State Board. Her departure from the board was very strange for someone with her political ideology -- who is Bridget Keeney? -- but she's recently re-asserting herself in public.

The movement paid special attention to how public schools dealt with issues such as homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, but also sought to promote an uber-nationalist view of American history, in which the evils of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans were downplayed or sometimes totally whitewashed. (For more on the curriculum wars of the 1990s, see Sara Diamond's masterful Not By Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right.)

Oh, that'll be the day: Whitewashing slavery, in South Carolina? What, the slaves enjoyed slavery here? They were better off, were they?

Bachmann's main competition for Tea Party voters, Rick Perry, has made opposition to federal education mandates a centerpiece of his political career. Under his watch as governor, Texas was one of just two states (the other was Alaska) to refuse to even consider adopting the new state-led common core curriculum standards in English and math. Perry also kept Texas out of the Obama administration's Race to the Top education reform grant competition, declaring, "[W]e would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children's future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents' participation in their children's education."

Did Mick Zais get those same talking points?

It will be interesting to see how Mitt Romney, the man Bachmann or Perry will have to beat to claim the GOP nomination, handles all this. His centrism on school reform is a matter of public record. When he ran for president in 2008, he defended No Child Left Behind, saying similar legislation had worked well in Massachusetts during his time as governor. As recently as February 2010, in a speech before the Conservative Political Action Committee, he outlined a school reform platform largely indistinguishable from that of the Obama administration, supporting higher pay for teachers and more accountability.

But recently, Romney has gone quiet on the issue. His campaign website carefully avoids any mention of education policy, and he hasn't brought it up on the trail. At Thursday night's GOP debate, only Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain were asked about NCLB; Romney got off the hook. But with his party's congressional leaders rushing to the right on school reform—chasing after Bachmann, Palin, and other members of the Tea Party—Romney won't get a free pass for very long. He'll have to either defend his record of support for top-down education standards or perform another obvious and painful flip-flop in his quest to woo the conservative base.

So, the takeaway from this article is that rather than have an honest dialogue and debate about the equal access to high-quality public education, our public schools are going to be used again as the battleground for a culture war.

Haven't we been here before? Didn't we get sick of it then? Where are leaders like Dick Riley when we need them?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Public schools are no budget priority in South Carolina

I appreciate reading Bill Davis's columns in Statehouse Report, as they're usually quite cogent and pertinent analyses of the state's unncessary misfortunes. His item in the August 5 edition was no different, titled "State avoids fully funding education."

Comprehensive and sensible public education reform could benefit, or be the victim of, competing political agendas in the days ahead.

South Carolina has always struggled with the confluence of education and money, from the time of slavery until modern times. And the 2011-12 school year will be no different based on trends.

In hopes of better competing with regional, national, and international school systems, South Carolina’s legislature in 1977 passed a series of funding bills to funnel money into schools and maintain funding on a per-pupil basis, also known as base student funding.

How has that gone over the past 10 years? Does the word “rollercoaster” ring a bell? Despite claims by legislators that education was cut last and “held harmless” in recent years, the hard numbers tell a different story.

State law requires the General Assembly to fund school districts at roughly $2,700 per-student for the current school and fiscal year, according to state officials. But, the legislature, making use of special one-year temporary laws called provisos, has routinely skirted funding the full amount.

How far off? The actual per-pupil amount this year is $1,880, according to the state Department of Education, with even less in recurring funding. In other words, the base student allocation is roughly one-third off.

As a diligent journalist, Davis was bound to give Su-Pretendent Mick Zais's spinmeister, Jay Ragley, time and space to rationalize the deep cuts.

Though diligent, I am not similarly bound; I will offer my own interpretation of Ragley's answer, in my own words: In South Carolina, under the present leadership at the state and legislative level, adequate funding for public education is not high on anyone's priority list.

Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility; say it enough times and it loses meaning.

And, what a law says is subject to interpretation: You say you don't have enough money to do the job, I say you do. That's life. Deal with it.

Currently, the per-pupil funding is on par with actual dollar amounts from the 1998-99 budget. And the total amount of education funding from the state’s General Fund, which doesn’t include federal pass-through dollars, dropped to $1.8 billion last year in 2010-11. That represented a nearly $300-million cut from the previous year, and is on par with state appropriations from 10 years ago -- before the dot-com bubble burst was completely felt.

Davis included some views from educators themselves on the matter, Scott Price of the South Carolina School Boards Association and Jackie Hicks, president of The South Carolina Education Association.

Price, who is paid to advocate on behalf public education, said he saw the paucity and the up-and-down nature of per-pupil funding as a bellwether of other state priorities.

“If we’re a decade behind in school funding, then we better take a look at the conditions of our state roads, and the number of law enforcement officers we have patrolling them.”

This was far from the first year that Jackie B. Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association, became frustrated with legislators for skirting the law they passed to set per-pupil spending. She said the legislature ought to follow its own legislation or write a new law to solve the ongoing problems.

“In our state, leadership has not done a good job of putting public education first,” Hicks said. “Provisos have depleted everything,” which, she said, was especially damaging in a state with such a high ratio of children depending on school-based free and reduced price lunch and breakfast programs.

Offering a view into his "crystal ball," Davis concluded, "Failure to act on the voluminous Taxation Realignment Commission final report this year showed how little interest the General Assembly has in affecting major taxation changes. And with next year being an election year and the dominant perception being that an exemption removed is a new tax created, there may be no simple answer to improving state school funding issues."

Which is how many educators are reminded every day that we live in South Carolina.

Record scholarships defy state's NCLB ratings

I noticed an odd juxtaposition of facts earlier this month when news came that all but one of South Carolina's school districts failed to meet federal adequate yearly progress goals.

By one measure, South Carolina's public schools have failed, failed, failed their students. By another measure, South Carolina's schools have surpassed their students' wildest dreams, meeting and exceeding their needs, and guaranteeing them access to higher education and great careers to come.

I wondered, How can both be true? Then I concluded that they both cannot be true; one is an invalid measure.

I'll give you two guesses about which I concluded was an invalid measure, and I'll spot you a really big clue: Many, many, many educators caught onto the game in No Child Left Behind way back in December 2001, when it became law.

The State newspaper, I thought, did a great job in putting the NCLB issue in context:

IT’S SCHOOL TEST results season again, and so again a few basics need to be remembered:

• South Carolina has made far more progress in recent years than most people realize — and considerably more than the professional public-school bashers want us to believe — in improving student achievement.

• We still have a long way to go to provide all children with the education they need to be the productive citizens we need them to be if our state is to become the place we all want it to be.

• The federal law that makes our gains look like regression is deeply flawed and in no way reflects either how far we’ve come or how far we still have to go.

The idea behind the No Child Left Behind law is the same as the idea behind the S.C. Education Accountability Act that predates it: To improve student learning, we must set high expectations for all students and hold not only students but also schools accountable for their performance.

The problem is that the federal law set unrealistic standards that forced states to either manipulate the numbers to give a false impression of success, or else be honest and quickly be labeled abject failures, subjecting the schools to political attack that could undermine public support for public education. The first approach cheats students out of the educational opportunities they deserve; unfortunately, the second approach can do the same. For the most part, South Carolina has maintained its high standards, although the Legislature did succumb to a minor bit of manipulation last year.

But even that minor manipulation wasn’t enough to counter the tyranny of the Lake Wobegon law, which requires increasingly unrealistic improvement each year until it reaches its crescendo in 2014: the statistical impossibility that every student in the nation be “proficient” in math and reading.

Meanwhile, at the same time that principals and teachers were in tears at being called failures by those The State rightly calls "professional public-school bashers," news of a completely different sort came, and it changed the game entirely.

South Carolina high school graduates had a record-setting year for college scholarships, the South Carolina Department of Education announced Wednesday.

The South Carolina Class of 2011 earned around $966 million in scholarships — the most since the state began tracking the information 10 years ago. The figure pushed the state’s five-year scholarship total to more than $4.2 billion.

Which means that educators across South Carolina must have been doing something right -- in fact, a hell of a lot right -- for a lot of years to help South Carolina's high school graduates qualify for so much scholarship money.

Failures? Our graduates' record-setting scholarships seem to say different.

Graduates from Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union county schools collectively earned about $87.1 million in 2011 — nearly $6 million more than the previous year.

Spartanburg County graduates from the seven school districts combined earned about $74.5 million in 2011. Cherokee County students received $8.5 million in scholarships, and Union County graduates earned about $4.1 million.
Among local districts, Spartanburg District 6 graduates earned the most scholarship funding in 2011 with about $19.8 million, and with an increase of nearly $6 million over 2010, also showed the biggest dollar figure growth.
Union County saw the biggest percentage increase in the amount of scholarships earned. Scholarship totals more than tripled in a year’s time, increasing by nearly $3 million.

Likewise, the scholarship haul broke records in the Low Country.

Charleston, the state's second- largest school district and the biggest in the Lowcountry, reported the most scholarship earnings locally with $47.9 million, a $1.7 million increase from last year. Its students' winnings ranked sixth statewide.

Berkeley and Dorchester 2 school districts ranked 9th and 10th statewide, reporting $29.9 million and $25.5 million, respectively. Berkeley saw a $3.1 million increase from last year, while Dorchester 2 had the biggest jump locally with $4.7 million.

Rural Dorchester 4 reported $2.2 million for Woodland High, its lone high school, representing a $400,000 increase from last year.

Make sure you catch that: Graduates from Dorchester 4's only high school collected $2.2 million in scholarships.

And, while we're here, let's give credit to South Carolina's guidance counselors:

Candy Bates-Quinn, the Charleston County School District's coordinator of school counseling, attributes some of the increase to school counselors who do more than talk to students about personal and social issues.

Counselors also are doing career and academic counseling, and they're doing so sooner than they have in the past, she said. When students and their parents are informed early on about what it takes to get into college, they are more likely to understand the process and apply for scholarships, she said.

"With the (poor) economy, students are seeking out the smaller scholarships and seeing the meaning in them," she said. "I'm excited. We want to try to improve and get more funding (for students)."

Santorum: Early childhood education is "fascism"

I did not know much about Rick Santorum before I Googled his name, but now I know too much about Santorum -- more than I wanted to know.

I Googled his name because he used a visit to South Carolina in May to make disparaging remarks about early childhood education.

Rick Santorum, a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, even raised the specter of Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy in a speech here Friday night while explaining why his grandfather emigrated to the U.S. His uncle, he said, "used to get up in a brown shirt and march and be told how to be a good little fascist."

"I don't know, maybe they called it early pre-K or something like that, that the government sponsored to get your children in there so they can indoctrinate them," Santorum said.

A couple of weeks ago, Santorum made similar comments about early childhood education -- and the people who teach pre-kindergarten -- in Iowa.

Rick Santorum fired a verbal salvo at early-education programs on Tuesday, telling an Iowa crowd that government pre-school programs are part of a hideous plot by the government to indoctrinate children.

"It is a parent's responsibility to educate their children. It is not the government's job. We have sort of lost focus here a little bit," said Santorum, the Des Moines Register reports.

"Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can. That is why I opposed all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children as to what they want them to be. I am against that."

In the article about that appearance in Iowa, it says that Santorum and his wife "have home-schooled their seven children through the eighth grade." Home-schooling one's child or children is a right and valuable option for parents who want that option. The item said that the Santorums opted to home-school their children "in order to shield his own family from indoctrination."

Personal note: The Santorums may want to shield their children from Googling their family name, too. Word to the wise.

Santorum also has announced his theory to explain why American students perform poorly on tests of U.S. history.

This time Santorum is arguing that the reason so few U.S. students perform well in U.S. history is because of “a conscious effort on the part of the left who has a huge influence on our curriculum, to desensitize America to what American values are so they’re more pliable to the new values that they would like to impose on America.”

Spartanburg 1 honors retiring educators

This is a good and decent thing to do.

Administrators across the state, especially those pushing their most veteran educators out of the classroom as cost-saving strategy, would do well for themselves and their school communities to give due honor and recognition to men and women who have devoted their careers -- the prime years of their lives, in abundance -- to the education of other people's children. Regardless of the cost, it's worth it.

District 1 Schools recently honored those employees who retired during or at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

United in their dedication to student-centered education for every child in our community, these employees accumulated a combined total of 541.5 years of service to the students and citizens of District 1 in varying capacities.

Kathie Lindsay, Ray Smith, and Tom Wilkins, all of Campobello-Gramling School; Wanda Cromer, Randy Medlock, and Pam Stokes, all of Chapman High School; Kenneth Allison, Judy Harris, Nancy McCarter, Naomi McMillan, Bobby Teague, Frieda Thomas, and James Woodruff, all of the District One Administrative Office; Tommy Campbell and Kenneth Burrell, both of H.B. Swofford Career Center; Elaine Graves and Suzanne Wilson, both of Holly Springs-Motlow Elementary School; Delores “Dee” Camp and Jimmy Ramsey, both of Inman Elementary School; Donna Pace of Landrum High School; Linda Allison of Landrum Middle School; Betty Ann Martin of New Prospect Elementary School; Mary Jo Spooner of O.P. Earle Elementary School.

To all of these educators: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Your salaries, health care benefits and retirement dividends have been and remain woefully insufficient compensation for the years of soul and spirit you've given to the children of your communities, and no gold watch or banquet will make up the difference -- though you certainly deserve both.

But generations yet to come will be born and raised in circumstances immeasurably improved because you were here and chose to serve children.

May you thrive and find immense joy in your retirement. Thank you.

Intelligence plus character, the goal of true education

As schools re-open for classes across the state, it's a good time to recall what some of our wiser thinkers have said and written about education and its purposes. This item was published by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1947, in the Morehouse College student newspaper, the Maroon Tiger.

As I engage in the so-called "bull sessions" around and about the school, I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education. Most of the "brethren" think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses. Still others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end.

It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, possessed one of the better minds of Georgia, or even America. Moreover, he wore the Phi Beta Kappa key. By all measuring rods, Mr. Talmadge could think critically and intensively; yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are those the types of men we call educated?

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, "brethren!" Be careful, teachers!


S.C. Policy Council eschews schools, promotes online education

In the world imagined by the good folks at the South Carolina Policy Council, public education in South Carolina's future will be double-plus-good, without all the trouble of teachers and schools. In the coming world, education will be a matter of turning on your viewscreen and following instructions.

This pleasant, almost anesthetic, note was published by the Charleston Post and Courier a couple of weeks ago under the title "Online learning uplifting, efficient":

Imagine a public education system able to provide access to high-quality instruction, regardless of where a student lives.

Imagine this being read to you in Rod Serling's voice.

Imagine schools able to give individualized instruction to potential dropouts. Or course offerings that encourage students to master their studies, instead of simply show up for class. In fact, this vision for the state's public school system already exists; it's called online learning.

High school students who have read not only Orwell but Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" will pick up the theme here.

We need no teachers in this new world. We need only our view screen. And our instructor's voice.

As such, it represents a way our schools can move beyond many of the traditional limitations of a brick-and-mortar classroom and connect with students on a one-to-one basis.

Or, on a one-to-one hundred basis. Or one-to-one thousand. In cyberspace, no one can hear you counting.

And these goals are accomplished without having to build more brick-and-mortar schools.

Brick-and-mortar are old-world concepts, employed before those with knowledge of mass media and profit motives brought their philosophies and technologies to bear in training pliant workers.

In olden days, education was a dirty, ragged affair. Children were induced to come to places called schools. There, live teachers with degrees and certificates from physical colleges and universities stood in classrooms with walls, sometimes in laboratories with lab stations, or in libraries with paper-and-ink books, and interacted -- and guided dialogues interactively -- with students in person.

That system was inefficient, and tens of millions of American students were graduated from those schools with institutional deficiencies. This is why America struggled in vain to remain a viable nation through its first two centuries.

All of that is changed now.

Thanks to online learning, targeted, individualized instruction that focuses on concrete academic progress is replacing mere "seat-time."

Online learning is double-plus-good.

It has worked well with at-risk students, students in urban and rural areas, gifted students, and those with special needs.

Everyone will learn through online learning. It is double-plus-good.

In olden days, students in schools interacted with one another in person, face-to-face, breathing the same air and occupying the same rooms. But those rooms were inefficient learning spaces, as they were cleaned and maintained by live workers, and heated and cooled according to the seasons by machinery and energy paid for by public tax revenues. Online learning provides exactly the same interaction without the threat of communicable disease or the need to share space or air. It is double-plus-good.

It also offers diverse opportunities for social interaction -- for instance, through sports clubs, homeroom clusters, and academic field trips. Just as important, it teaches students to master new social communication tools that are revolutionizing the way we work, learn and live.

This is how we live today. Just as we no longer must interact with undesirables in public places, supermarkets, bookstores, theaters or resort hotels, we no longer have to interact with undesirables in school settings.

Online learning is also no longer at the untested, theoretical level -- it's already a reality. South Carolina currently has five online public charter schools, with a sixth scheduled to open this year.

Indeed, it is double-plus-good.

And it is effective, not only at avoiding people of a lower caste.

Success and completion rates are also very high, with nearly 90 percent of students passing their chosen online course.

It is double-plus-good, and it will work for you. It is also cost-effective.

And while online learning shouldn't be thought of as a cost-free way to run public education, it is, in fact, cost-effective.

Without the costs of so many live instructors facilitating instruction through hands-on learning and group dialogue, and brick-and-mortar schools to facilitate learning through interpersonal and group interaction, online learning is cost-effective. It costs less, and is double-plus-good. It will work for you. You will become successful through online learning.

Per pupil costs at the state's virtual charter schools are at least 25 percent lower than at traditional public schools.

Online learning is cost-effective. You will become successful through online learning. No one wants to associate with undesirables, people of a lower caste. Everyone wants online learning.

Demand for online learning is growing, and it's easy to see why.

Everyone deserves online learning. It is not a luxury. It is cost-effective and double-plus-good. Policymakers must be made to understand.

The danger is that policymakers will think of online learning as a kind of luxury -- an educational option that's helpful for many students, but one that doesn't merit the same kind of support as traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

Brick-and-mortar schools are dirty and cost a lot. They force students to associate with undesirables and people of lower castes. Their graduates are defective. Online learning isn't a luxury; it is double-plus-good and will work for you. It is a right that everyone wants.

But online learning isn't a luxury. It's an essential part of the solution to our educational challenges -- and an additional parental choice in a system that desperately needs it.

You will become very successful through online learning.

Public education is nowhere to be found in this chart

Notice that spending on public education has not added to the national debt.

Public education is always at the top of this list

Notice what gets proposed for cuts first when the economy falters.

Midlands schools open, many veteran educators gone

The State published an item on Sunday that carried an aroma of relief, though it noted that the relief isn't felt by everyone.

As Midlands public schools open this week, the disaster scenarios that swirled during debates over the state budget have given way to a slightly rosier outlook. Still, most districts are opening schoolhouse doors with fewer teachers, a situation that commenced with the recession of 2008. And there is heightened awareness of the uneven nature of the economic downturn and recovery.

There are bright spots — Lexington 1, for example, is adding teachers and Richland 2 still has some vacancies as it opens two new schools, Catawba Trails Elementary School and Muller Road Middle School.

“A year ago, I didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel at all, but now I can see some light,” Kershaw County Superintendent Frank Morgan said Thursday. “Obviously, the additional funding we were able to get at the end of the General Assembly was very, very helpful.”

Still, he said, his district’s $63 million budget is 5 percent below funding levels of three years ago, when the budget hovered at $72 million.

Several administrators told the paper that things weren't as bad as they could have been, which is code in South Carolina for "be happy with what you've been given, because it could be snatched away next year."

That’s the sense among other school district officials who are grateful for the additional funds but still aware that per-pupil expenditures are well below levels of even three years ago.

“In 2009, it was $2,578,” said Richland 1 chief budget officer Ed Carlon, who oversees a $246 million budget. “Now it is $1,880.”

We're not a full year into a four-year Haley-Zais administration. The $1,880 per pupil approved by the legislature in June might shrink to $1,500, or $1,000 per pupil, next year. As Carlton said, consider what the per-pupil expenditure was in 2008-09, during the halcyon days of that grand underminer of public schools, Mark Sanford.

Many education veterans have gotten the message.

In Richland 2, many “working retirees,” teaching under annual letters of agreement, will not return to the classroom this year, part of an exodus that began in 2009-10.

Those departures have alarmed district residents like the Rev. Brad Smith and his wife, Nancy, parents of three, who took the unusual step of addressing a letter this month to other parents questioning, among many issues, whether such layoffs were necessary.

“Together these teachers embody not only enormous leadership, wisdom and experience; they also help embody the culture of Richland 2,” the Smiths wrote. “While billed as a ‘cost-saving’ move, it is also a ‘culture-shifting’ move.”

Bottom line: Experienced teachers cost more, they have amassed large constituencies, and they're intimidating to their employers. Newer teachers are cheaper and can more easily be told what to do. And, as an added bonus, they're so worried about losing their jobs in the current economy, they'll accept all the committee assignments, extracurricular work and non-instructional duties an administrator wants to pile on them.

In fact, that's true of all the survivors of job cuts:

If there is a silver lining to the years of austerity, Kershaw County’s Morgan said it has come in the willingness of employees and the community to shoulder the additional work and share the burden.

“I’m so absolutely impressed and grateful for the work our folks have done during very difficult times,” he said.

Yes, hard times are a true test of (every)one's character.