Monday, January 23, 2012

Anderson IM: We can't cut our way to education excellence

Editors of the Anderson Independent Mail wisely waited until the hordes cleared the field this week before issuing comment on Governor Nikki Haley's State of the State address, and I'm glad they did.

Through Saturday evening's primary returns, news of other sorts got washed away, and this is too great a concern to let go by unheard.

Their verdict on the the Haley speech? Not enough.

As is usually the case, there were no surprises from Gov. Nikki Haley in her state of the state address earlier this week.

It wasn’t a speech that evidenced much innovation or many plans for the future, but rather a congratulatory recap of the past year, singling out representatives of companies that have a presence or are adding a presence in our state. While many of the jobs won’t be fully realized until some years down the road, we would agree that it is a fine start.

We can’t help but admire her optimism. We hope, as we have always hoped of governors past and present, that her rosy view of our state, if not quite the case today, will be the case tomorrow. And we’ll be looking toward her to make her idea of South Carolina become the truth, that “our state is surging.”

Honestly, I still don't know what that means, that South Carolina is "surging." I see no signs of "surging."

a strong, wavelike, forward movement, rush, or sweep: the onward surge of an angry mob.
a strong, swelling, wavelike volume or body of something: a billowing surge of smoke.
the rolling swell of the sea.
the swelling and rolling sea: The surge crashed against the rocky coast.
a swelling wave; billow.

verb (used without object)
(of a ship) to rise and fall, toss about, or move along on the waves: to surge at anchor.
to rise, roll, move, or swell forward in or like waves: The sea surged against the shore. The crowd surged back and forth.
to rise as if by a heaving or swelling force: Blood surged to his face.

Does Haley mean to suggest that South Carolinians are forming an angry mob, preparing to storm the Capitol? I might see that; the Occupy Columbia movement may have been on her mind. Or that South Carolina is billowing like smoke? Indeed, the return of the legislature to Columbia brings with it a high volume of hot air.

But what I think she meant is that a Haley-induced economic boom is just on the horizon. If that was her meaning -- the yet-unclear perception of something on the horizon -- she might better have used "mirage" rather than "surge." People under pressure or strain sometimes have perceptions that others do not; they may see a "mirage" and believe it is a "surge."

Still tens of thousands of unemployed South Carolinians and working poor see no mirage and no surge; they see unpaid bills and hungry children, and a calendar that tells them warm weather is still months away. They are under pressure and strain, but this is no mirage; this is reality.

The editors seem to agree:

Haley is enthusiastic about job creation in South Carolina and, again, we will look to her actions to make that a reality. But it’s still not “a great day in South Carolina,” no matter how our state office telephones are answered. We have high unemployment, a disregard for the value of public education at our top levels of government and not as much transparency as we were promised during her campaign. The recent controversy over her office destroying emails that it deemed not important is but one example.

The words that gave us the most pause, however, came early in her speech: “We believe all is possible with hard work. And our great hope lies in creating a better tomorrow for our children and our children’s children.”

How, pray tell, can that be accomplished if there are more cuts to public education coupled with more money for charter schools? A traditional public school has to educate every student that comes to its doors. Public schools cannot pick and choose. While this doesn’t cancel out the benefits of charters or excuse the failings of some public schools, the issue of how to improve our schools is much more complicated than it appears, even to the experts –– or the politicians.

Yes, pray tell, Governor. Little pitchers have big ears, and the state's children are straining to hear your wisdom on this subject, not to mention the state's educators in public schools. Opine, Governor. Orate. Bring the light.

You are governor to a state in pain. The whole of your citizens is not found on your campaign donor list, and those not found on your donor list can't be shut out of your view of the state just as you shut them out of the Mansion gates.

You may be champion of a small imperial class, but you are governor of four million, many of whom don't see or hear you addressing their needs. Not a single word of your text gave succor to the children of unemployed parents, to the children in South Carolina's rural counties and our Corridor of Shame. To be sure, the only children who have benefited from your rhetoric to date are your own, as they see their mother's lifetime earning potential as a Fox News contributor surpass all understanding.

The lack of mention of support for public education during the speech was painful and a direct hit, not just on the minority party but members of the majority party who have joined their colleagues across the aisle to repeatedly reject any notion of public money for private education.

How can we hope for a better future, not just for our children but for our state, without the strength of public education available to all with equal measure of excellence? Our state already took away the primary funding mechanism for public education. What will we do next to the detriment of our future leaders?

This is the very nature of a mirage: It dissolves as we draw nearer, just as the South Carolina of Haley's imagining fades with each passing day.

If a company is considering coming to our state or expanding operations in our state, it will be a strong public education system, one where that company’s employees will educate their children, where an educated workforce will be a given, that will help bring it here, not declines in state support for one of a state’s most vital responsibilities.

In this regard, Haley enjoys the bequest of the old Gressette Commission, which delayed implementation of integration long enough for various segregation academies to spring up across the land. The intent was not, has never been, to provide quality public education to all children; the intent has always been to provide quality education to the select, and that, if necessary, through new creations such as virtually exclusive charter schools, or through publicly-subsidized private schools.

It may as well be in our state Constitution: Children of the elite shall have their opportunities; children of the rest shall have what is minimally adequate, as the courts have affirmed. In this, Haley is merely adding herself to long list of malignant leaders.

Haley spoke at length about Boeing, about “the excitement that swept across South Carolina back in the fall of 2009,” not even pausing to mention that she had no part in the company’s investment — and promise of jobs — in North Charleston. It was the administration of Gov. Mark Sanford that welcomed Boeing to South Carolina, although Haley’s speech said that she and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt came into office a year ago and “found an economic development community … that was fractured.” It must have been doing something right.

It is the hubris of the young to assume that the splendor of the world began with their own birth, and that what existed before them was squalid.

It is the same hubris that leads to their downfall. As high as Icarus flew, so flies our governor, away from reality on the ground, but gravity and its disappointments come soon enough.

Haley is accurate, however, about our state’s natural beauty, and we were pleased that she mentioned the Upstate when speaking of “the tidal creeks of Beaufort to the shores of Lake Keowee” as examples that make us the “envy of the nation.” She recognizes the importance of tourism to our state and we hope that she will remember its importance in budget matters. And we appreciate that she also recognizes that while new business is always welcome, existing businesses need our support as well.

Yet we remember that last year she proposed cutting the budget for training through our technical college system (for some of those same new and existing businesses), while in this year’s state of the state, she went out of her way to compliment its efforts and results.

Finally, her fiscal remarks were expected and unremarkable. She prefers to return potential overages to taxpayers (averaging less than $90) rather than supporting much-needed improvements in our infrastructure, in repairing roads and bridges that have for too long been allowed to deteriorate. Both economic development and the furtherance of our standing as a tourist destination would benefit.

We’ll talk more about her executive budget and the General Assembly’s plans in the days to come. But for now, while we weren’t particularly inspired by her speech, we do see it as an opportunity to hold her to her public promises, especially this one: “I will not rest until we’ve created a climate in which every citizen of this state who wants a job, has a job.”

Sadly, we all know what promises were made for.

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