Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Voucher bill passes, 65-49

By a vote of 65-49, the South Carolina House has just approved a statewide voucher bill on second reading.

Johnson, Smith, Brown speak on the bill

Note: Following is an encapsulation of remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Kevin Johnson: The real losers here are our public school teachers, principals, students.

I am truly disappointed. I came up here assuming I was working with some of the most intellectual people in South Carolina, and this is what we have.

For 15 years, serving as a school board member, I saw the demise, how they were trying to bring school choice in. Finally, finally, Mr. Rich has won. A New Yorker has won because he sent enough money down here to convince you.

So I applaud you, South Carolinians -- I applaud you for doing an idiotic thing.

Rep. James Smith: It's all about perception that we're providing parents choice and helping poor children; we're doing neither of those things. We're going to spend $37 million, and these taxpayers are going to get $140 and say, You've got choice now.

This is outrageous. This body has just failed to fund minimally adequate education. We're a poor state. We have real challenges. Yet we're spending $37 million to allegedly provide choice.

You're not speaking the truth. You're telling them a lie.

But you're going to undermine the efforts we're making to improve public education.

For wealthy families, this is just gravy. They're already paying for private school tuition, and this is just another nice dinner out.

Gravy for families who really don't need it, aren't asking for it, at a sacrifice to our public schools. I hope you feel real good about voting for this bill.

This is just the foot in the door. They've been working on this for ten years. Back then, it was a lot bigger effort; they kept making it smaller, and they've spent 12 to 15 million dollars just to get to this day.

After 10 years, we're going to give South Carolina families, poor and wealthy, $140 if you home-school, $280 to go to private school.

They're getting a lie, is what they're getting.

Don't feel like you're doing anything to improve the lives of working people.

There is no choice here, just a false promise, an ideology that propagates this notion.

This is one of those days when it doesn't add up. They finally get a victory; took a really bad idea and sold it to the people of our state. They'll be back next year, working to undermine public education again. And I and my colleagues will be back to defend it.

Rep. Grady Brown: I asked my deskmate, the Rev. Karl Anderson to tell me this story again.

Howard Rich and his infamous money have walked around this State House seven times, and the walls came tumbling down.

I wonder -- I'm passionate about it -- how many hundreds of thousands of dollars that Howard Rich and his donors have doled out to candidates in South Carolina. In time, I intend to find out.

It's something that needs to be said, why he and his many donors from all over the United States sent thousands of dollars here. Why do we have to have someone from outside the state, from New York, to try to deter the educational process we have in this state. Why?

Anthony, Allison, Brown speak on the voucher bill

Note: Following is an encapsulation of remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Mike Anthony: Where is the superintendent who represents 700,000 children in this state?

I said as a freshman, One of these days, you're going to awaken the sleeping giant of this state -- the teachers of this state. When the message gets to them and they understand it -- you sit back and laugh because teachers don't vote -- when that happens, you won't see this kind of stuff.

I want to apologize to my delegation in Spartanburg who got those nasty report cards over this.

Every parent has one opportunity to educate your child. Does that mean you have to be for choice? No, but it means every time I saw parents engaged in their child's education, they got it. Parents have to be engaged.

I don't like that "minimally-adequate" requirement we got back from the courts.

The people who run the schools now are adjudicators -- the judges, litigators -- the lawyers -- and legislators.

This is going to weaken the General Fund budget, because this process has been fought for by mean-spirited people. To my colleagues in Spartanburg, I can't imagine you voting for this, the way they treated you.

Wait 'til next year. What are they going to bring back next year?

How can we throw away $37 million to appease 65,000 when we can't fund the 700,000 who have chosen public schools? This is just tossing water in their faces.

Remember what I said: One of these days, we're going to awaken the sleeping giant.

Rep. Rita Allison: I have a few things to share before you go home.

I stand here... conflicted. I am, over how we got here.

I've been in the General Assembly for a number of years, and through the Governor's office, and throughout that time I know parents who wanted parental choice, parents who cared and who wanted parental choice.

Then there was the other side, parents who were scared there wouldn't be enough money to fund public education.

This bill is not a silver bullet to determine whether public education is funded.

I think so much of Mr. Anthony. In his heart, he puts the child in the center of everything. That's what we have to do. We have public schools I would put up against any in the nation. But we also have weak links. We are as strong as those weak links, public and private. They have to be brought up.

We have to have the will to do what we haven't had the will to do. We took up tax reform without any education funding in it. We have to stop and think about what we're doing. We have to be able to do for the teachers the things they need to teach every day, and parents have to be involved.

This is not the silver bullet. We'll have to do our job to support public education in our state and keep it going.

I want to thank you for the civility in this body today. There hasn't been that civility on the journey to this. We should not be pitting education against education in this state; it should be the best thing to happen to any child in this state, private or public.

I hope we've learned a lesson through this journey we've taken on choice. It's not about drawing a line in the sand and becoming an obstructionist and threatening people because they have a feel about something. It's about allowing people to come together at a table.

Rep. Boyd Brown: Obviously I'm against the bill. I went to private school in Fairfield County; those are not the best public schools in the state, but we're trying to make them better.

By taking children out of those schools and putting them in a segregated private school is not the answer. It weakens our public education system.

It's a vehicle, so they can come back next year and chip away some more, the guys who work for Howard Rich. They're going to find a way to keep getting paid by Howard Rich.

I have two main problems. One is the way that group conducts business. We've an honorable county delegation targeted, a member from the Low Country blasted on a blog because she stood up for what her constituents want.

What you're saying with this bill is that this IS the way to get things done. When it comes to school choice, that's what it took to get this passed. All it took was legally being on the take from Howard Rich.

Arthur Ravenel said, If you can't take their money and vote against them, you have no business being in politics in the first place.

Instead of voting on the interests of Howard Rich, you need to vote in the interests of your constituents.

They picked off people like Keith Kelly, an honorable man, and that's they way they got things done.

Second is what it actually does to public education. On most Friday nights, like many of you, I'm at a football game. These public schools have always been, and despite Howard Rich, the backbone of our communities. We don't gather in church; it's still pretty segregated. It's now the football stands, the basketball arena.

We're incentivizing parents to take their children out of public schools, and keep them home, and fracture our communities more than they're fractured now. In encourage all of you to vote against it.

Govan makes the case against vouchers

Note: Following is an encapsulation of remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Jerry Govan: Back in 1712, this state provided a nominal amount of money to support school parishes and their teachers.

In 1720, most of these schools, around Charleston, had disappeared.

In 1801, the College of Columbia was established. Between 1824 and 1865, most of the governors were alumni, 40 percent of the legislators.

In 1868, the Constitution mandated non-discriminatory public education for children 6 to 16 years of age. This was during the radical Reconstruction, when legislators from all walks of life and a different hue came into this body and decided public education would be a priority in this state. A tax was raised of one dollars to fund public education, one dollar per citizen.

Later, they added two mills on the property tax, and that's when we began to use property tax to fund public education.

By 1882, there were some 3,000+ schools in South Carolina.

Why is all this important? Because what we saw from 1860 to 1910 was the advent of public schools in this state. Public education was important. There was a need for citizens to be educated, funded by the state.

But things happened between 1949 and 1970. During that time, we saw some dark pages in the history of this state, we saw a fight for equity in education in this state. In 1949, Briggs v Clarendon, or Briggs v Elliott, the forerunner of Brown v Board.

Then we saw the Gressette Committee try to preserve segregation in our schools.

There was a time when we had compulsory attendance, but it was suspended until 1966.

We went through the challenges of separate-but-equal, and we saw integration and the challenges of it, because of the fight for equity in education.

There's a point here. Many have left the chamber; some folk are talking, but that's okay because it's important to understand the history of the state of South Carolina.

If you look at the history of public education in this state, we get much more accomplished when we work together to lift the boats of all people.

What we have today is exactly what was said earlier: Whether the priority really is to lift the boats of all students or just a segment of the population.

In 1970s and 80s, we passed the Education Finance Act, EIA, basic skills assessment, etc. When we fully funded education, we saw results. NCLB came about in 2001 and we saw challenges there, but we passed accountability standards and raised its level of achievement.

We've faced challenges through the 2000s. In 2005, we passed the Education and Economic Development Act. But we also saw something unusual, something that began elsewhere, creep into South Carolina. We saw folks talking about choice and vouchers.

In 2006, we took our first major blow -- the property tax reform act, Act 388. We're still reeling from the consequences of it.

If you want to send your child to private school, that's your right. But the reason why we collect taxes in this state, why we pool resources and every citizen is asked to make a commitment, is because it's in the common interest of all that we educate the citizens of this state through a public-funded system.

What we're about to do is regress.

I ask you, urge you, today, as you vote on this bill, to consider this: This bill allows those who wish to opt out of public education an opportunity to do so, to the detriment of $37 million that otherwise would support what we have in common: a publicly funded public education system.

You can call it what you want. But the education system we fund is for all, the benefit of all.

It wouldn't be so bad if we were fully funding it. But we can find $37 million for this, just the beginning cost. This will cost way more than $37 million. If we're scrounging around now to fund the base student cost, if we have a dropping-off of revenue, where will we get the money to fund this?

Unless you can show me that every student who wishes to have access will be able to attend a private school, this means to me that we're regressing to a dual system of haves and have nots.

Having said that, I urge you to vote against this bill.

Let's be able to have a system in which all students are held to the same standards, see the results so we can compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges. If not, don't come up here talking about a failing school system. Don't insult me. The best and brightest of this state have attended public schools.

Doing better requires visionary leadership. There's a saying: Without vision, the people perish.

Is what we're doing today about visionary leadership that serves the interests of all, or is it short-sightedness that will make a problem, a challenge that we have as we try to compete in a global society, create an environment that divides us and puts us further behind.

Thank you to those members who are listening for your attention.

Amendments over, debate on the bill begins

Amendments 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 were withdrawn, and 24 was tabled on a voice vote.

We turn to the bill.

Pinson's Amendment 28 adopted

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Gene Pinson's Amendment 28 would restrict members of the General Assembly from participating in the tax deduction provided by this legislation.

Pinson: We should set the standard for these programs. We should not participate, if we serve in the General Assembly, for four years in this program. We're going to show the public what an ethical body we are.

Rep. Phillip Lowe moved to table; Pinson requested roll call.

Vote: 53-59, refused to table.

On a voice vote, the amendment was adopted.

Stavrinakis's Amendment 26 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Leon Stavrinakis's Amendment 26: No poor child is going to escape any "failing" school in South Carolina and go to any private school as a result of this bill.

We're going to take a nice vote now, to give the same tax deduction to public school parents that we're giving to parents of home schools and private schools.

White moved to table; Stavrinakis requested roll call.

Vote: 64-45, tabled.

Anthony's Amendment 25 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Anthony's Amendment 25 eliminates the PASS test and uses another test that can apply to private schools as well as public schools.

White moved to table; Anthony requested roll call.

Vote: 56-55, tabled.

Smith's Amendment 23 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. James Smith's Amendment 23 seeks to establish accountability.

Smith: This is an important amendment. We want to spend state dollars responsibly and accountably. We expect that of our public schools. Without this amendment, we're spending $37 million without accountability.

We ought to want high standards, demand excellence and performance, whether in our public education system or this new system.

There's no accountability for performance, no standards for what is taught. We will be doing a disservice to these students.

We're making the decision to spend $37 million when we just passed an appropriation bill that failed to meet the base student cost.

If we know today we're funding the base student cost at less than what the law demands, we admit we're not funding a minimally adequate education, what the law requires.

We've set a standard of passing bills that are facially unconstitutional. Our Constitution states as follows, No money shall be paid for public funds nor shall the credit of the used for the benefit of any religious or private institution.

It's pretty clear. That's exactly what you're doing with this bill.

Members, I think this is important. We take an oath to defend the Constitution.

If you're going to do that, at least adopt this amendment. I understand if you think it's okay to spend public dollars on private schools, but at least make sure you do it in a responsible way and implement Education Accountability Act standards.

Rep. Brian White moved to table the amendment; Smith requested roll call.

Vote: 64-47, tabled.

Ott's Amendment 22 adopted

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Brannon withdrew the next seven amendments, bringing the body to Rep. Harry Ott's Amendment 22.

Ott: This amendment says, Let's try it for five years, then look at it. If it's working, this body can reauthorize it. At least we can take a look.

We've voted down all amendments on accountability. Are we just going to throw money at it and hope our problems go away without evaluation the outcome?

With this amendment, in five years, they will get to re-evaluate and determine what they want to do.

Herbkersman: We have been throwing money at a problem without getting results. Would this amendment prevent changes over that five years?

Ott: If you come here next year and decide you want to change something, you can.

Y'all know I'm not for the bill. All I'm saying it, Let's take a breath, look at it after five years and see if it turned out the way you wanted.

Ott asked unanimous consent to change from a five-year period to a seven-year period, which was granted.

Bedingfield requested roll call on adopting the amendment.

Vote: 67-46, adopted!

Brannon's Amendment 15 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Brannon's Amendment 15: Includes the definition of immediate family members, who cannot receive scholarships when a family member is on the private school's board.

Bedingfield moved to table; Brannon requested roll call.

Vote: 68-46, tabled.

Brannon's Amendment 14 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Brannon's Amendment 14: A private school receiving SGO funds must be currently accredited.

Bedingfield moved to table; Brannon requested roll call.

Vote: 62-49, tabled.

Brannon's Amendment 13 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Brannon's Amendment 13: A private school receiving SGO funds must have been operating in South Carolina for 12 months before receiving the funds.

Bedingfield moved to table; Brannon requested roll call.

Vote: 61-50, tabled.

Brannon's Amendment 12 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Brannon's Amendment 12 adds disabilities or academic achievement to the list of characteristics that private schools cannot discriminate against.

Rep. Steve Parker: I can't imagine anyone would oppose this amendment.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter: Is it accurate that your amendment takes away the argument that private schools and publics are apples and oranges because publics have no right to refusal, while privates do?

Brannon: Yes.

Cobb-Hunter: So private school must accept anyone, if it is accepting public dollars?

Brannon: Yes, with one exception. Under the SGO program, the school has to qualify to receive scholarship dollars and if they're not set up to meet the needs of disabled children, they would qualify to receive these dollars.

Rep. Dwight Loftis: But all public schools do not accept all children with all disabilities.

Brannon: You have to read this amendment in conjunction with the rest of the bill. A private school doesn't have to accept anybody. If they don't qualify by the SGOs, they don't have to accept anyone. Should we set up SGO so they can pick and choose?

Loftis: We should set up schools just as we set up public schools, that don't accept all disabled children.

Herbkersman: Do you think the Governor's School of Science should accept someone whose academic achievement is lower than their standards are right now?

Brannon: That's not apples to apples. Should they be able to discriminate as they choose?

Herbkersman: They should be able to have standards.

Bedingfield moved to table; Brannon requested roll call.

Vote: 66-49, tabled.

Brannan's Amendment 11 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Brannon's Amendment 11 is technical. Various kinds of schools are defined in various parts of the bill; this amendment takes out one code reference because it's "fraught with peril when it comes to fraud."

Bedingfield moved to table, Brannon asked for roll call.

Vote: 67-47, tabled.

Brannan's Amendment 10 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Amendments 4 through 9 are passed over; Amendment 10 is explained by Rep. Doug Brannon.

Brannon: Pointless, but this amendment deal with transparency and accountability. Every independent school accepting grants shall undergo an audit and report to the Education Oversight Committee. If they're going to take state money, they should tell what they're doing with it.

Rep. Seth Whipper: They're taking state money?

Brannon: They're private, nonprofit organizations handing out money that would have come to the state.

Whipper: But the money doesn't come from the state.

Brannon: Corporations can contribute money to an SGO and save up to 65 percent of their state tax obligation. Rather than pay taxes, they can reduce their bill by giving money to an SGO.
Whipper: What state standards for anything are involved in this bill?

Brannon: You saw that Rep. Anthony's amendment to create some standards was just shot down. I'm just trying to account for money.

Rep. Bill Herbkersman: Let's talk about state money. It's taxpayer money. If you contribute money to your church, that's tax deductible. You wouldn't tell me not to give to the cancer society because it takes money away from the state, would you? But you would for giving money for school choice?

Brannon: We're dealing with education here. These organizations should be accountable.

Herbkersman: But it's not state money, it's taxpayer money.

Rep. Gene Pinson: Who can argue that we should oppose transparency or accountability?

Bedingfield moved to table, Brannon asked for roll call.

Vote: 69-48, tabled.

Brannon's Amendment 3 is tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Doug Brannon, Amendment 3: If a private school offers any scholarships and they qualify under this bill to receive scholarship funds, then they must accept voucher students for the amount of the voucher offered by the scholarship granting organization.

Let's face it: Average tuition at a private school in South Carolina is $11,000. If all you're giving them is $7,500, they don't have the money to make up the difference. So make these schools take these students.

Rep. Seth Whipper: What are the numbers involved in this voucher transfer?

Brannon: It's $4,000 deduction if your child enrolls or IS enrolled in a private school.

Whipper: Given merely on the fact the student is enrolled?

Brannon: Is enrolled or will be enrolled, up to $4,000, paid in the form of tuition. It's $2,000 for people who home-school their children, and less for transportation across public school district lines.

Scholarships may be granted for up to $5,000 to some students, paid to private schools for the benefit of these children.

Whipper: What we're talking about is SGOs -- some kind of foundation, a scholarship-granting organization. What are they?

Brannon: All I know is what I've read in the bill. There could be one, or ten thousand. There's no limit to the number of them. One could have $25 million.

Whipper: But they can only give a certain amount?

Brannon: Five thousand or ten thousand per child who qualifies. My amendment requires any school that gives a scholarship to accept scholarships from SGOs without asking parents for any additional funds.

Whipper: Are they philanthropic?

Brannon: They're non-profit. There are rules in the bill itself related to them.

Whipper: Will these SGOs be limited to schools they name for a period of time or in perpetuity?

Brannon: That's not in the bill.

Rep. Eric Bedingfield: To clarify, average tuition is $4,400. I don't disagree there are private schools with high tuition, but others have very low tuition. This amendment would require schools that aren't equipped to take SGO students to take them. So I move to table to amendment.

Brannan requested roll call.

Unidentified: But public schools HAVE to take these students...

Vote: 67-48, tabled.

Anthony's Amendment 2 tabled

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Terry Alexander: Is this really apples to apples?

Anthony: No, different levels of deductions for different children, private schools versus home schools.

Alexander: Isn't a state test part of apples-to-apples?

Anthony: That's my amendment. It's only fair. I've never figured out why accountability didn't come with this.

Rep. Eric Bedingfield: A certain portion of federal education dollars is tied to identifying a state test.

Anthony: It's a mandate from the federal government that we identify a state test. We don't have a choice.

Bedingfield: Jo Anne Anderson said there are ways to compare apples to apples without using the same test.

Anthony: I saw the good work the EOC did, but I will tell you this: I know that the Stanford test is much different from ours. We created the PASS test to meet NCLB. Why wouldn't you want to take the state test if you take the state dollars?

Bedingfield: At the appropriate time, I will move to table this amendment.

Anthony: Under Inez Tenenbaum, we created the third toughest test in the nation.

___: In Pickens County, we had a child who enrolled in a private school. At Christmas, they decided that couldn't afford it and went back to a public school. Could they take the deduction?

Anthony: I don't know.

Rep. Tommy Pope: There's a lot of tension and teacher lament that teachers are just teaching to the test. Do you think the PASS test is good for our schools?

Anthony: I think it's outlived its time.

Allison: Move to table the amendment.

Anthony requested roll call.

Vote: 63-53, tabled.

Anthony's amendment 2 is debated

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Gene Pinson, debating Amendment 2 by Rep. Mike Anthony, asked if there's another measurement to use besides the PASS test.

Anthony: Each state has to declare a state test. We've declared the PASS test is our test. If you're going to take state money, it's fair to take a state test.

Rep. Jackie Hayes: We have no problem with children attending any school their parents want them to attend. When we're talking about state funds, we want everyone on the same page.

Anthony: This goes way back to 2003, Put Parents In Charge. Then, tax credits. This is the ultra, ultra light of all the voucher bills that have come before us.

Hayes: In your tenure, have your constituents asked you for a tax credit?

Anthony: Yes, we have a Christian day school; those are the parents who have asked for it. But we have 700,000 children in our public schools who take the PASS test. If these folks were willing to take this test, we'd be more comfortable.

Hayes: Would this give every student a chance to go to a private school?

Anthony: They'd always have to be accepted. It doesn't guarantee any physically or mentally handicapped kids would go to a private school.

Voucher debate begins in the South Carolina House

Note: Following is an encapsulation of actions taken and remarks made by legislators during today's debate. While this note does reflect remarks made by these lawmakers, it is not a full and verbatim transcript of the remarks.

Rep. Rita Allison has offered Amendment 1 to HB 4894, the voucher bill. Allison was one of several Republicans who voted against the voucher bill last year. Her amendment is adopted.

Rep. Mike Anthony offered Amendment 2, asking that students receiving vouchers be subject to testing as well as children in traditional public schools.

"Grades 3 through 8 take the PASS test. A big thing about choice for 10 years has been competition, competition, competition. You can't compete without a level playing field. If their parents are going to be allowed to get a deduction, it's only fair that they take a test."

A selection of texts on vouchers in South Carolina

Given the possibility that our lawmakers may consider the 2012 edition of their voucher bill, I thought it helpful to offer a catalog of readings on vouchers.

Anderson Independent Mail weighs in against vouchers

Vouchers and "school choice" remain political, not educational

Kozol: Vouchers are part of corporate privatization plans

Loftis op-ed on vouchers, tuition tax credits doesn't mention cost

Katy, bar the door: Court offers 'roadmap' for private school vouchers

How SC's Gressette Commission invented vouchers, tuition tax credits

Poll: SC voters oppose vouchers 2-to-1, want to improve schools

Scores shows vouchers are no miracle pill, even in Milwaukee

Spearman: South Carolina cannot afford vouchers, tax credits

Dog-and-pony show pushes vouchers in Spartanburg

History repeats: The State on vouchers, 2007

Krohne: Public funds for private schools an "irresponsible proposal"

421 Charleston school jobs in jeopardy, but lawmakers consider vouchers

Florence 1 votes against vouchers, bus privatization

Florence 1 opposes privatization, vouchers, 1989 funding

Roosevelt Institute exposes privatization's motives

Cobb-Hunter raises equal-standards argument in voucher bill

Wisconsin lawmaker explains ALEC's position on education

Ravitch: Lessons from Finland that America won't learn

Could Scientologists open a charter school in South Carolina?

Part 2: FreedomWorks peddles vouchers in Spartanburg

Business marches to take over public education

Ravitch: Well-funded effort to replace public schools

Ravitch: Don't let schools become "profit centers"

Spearman: Out-of-state interests governing our government

The Zais Plan to improve public schools: Support vouchers & charters instead

Vouchers on the House agenda today?

Word has it that the South Carolina House intends to debate its voucher bill, HB 4894, this afternoon.

To review its content, read the full text at the legislature's website.

Greenville News defends public employment penalties

Editors of the Greenville News praised today the legislature's move to raise public employees' required contributions to their retirement fund, calling it "not perfect" but "necessary."

Indeed, it's imperfect. It's also unnecessary, as lawmakers could have adopted -- could still amend themselves and adopt -- a host of alternative strategies, from raising sufficient revenue to address the state's obligations while holding public workers harmless, to restoring all of the positions that have been eliminated in recent years, which would infuse the retirement system with a wave of new contributions from new, potentially younger, employees.

Or, the legislature could have exempted all current employees from higher costs, but established higher contribution levels for all prospective employees.

Of course, lawmakers could have done something even more honorable and committed themselves to giving public employees decent wages and salaries.

This being South Carolina, I reckon it's too much to ask. We have corporate tax breaks to protect and private school vouchers to fund. It's a matter of priorities.

For the editors of the News, the priority is protection of the state's bond rating, not protection of public workers.

The fix is needed because the S.C. Retirement System fund faces an unfunded liability of at least $13 billion. That liability would double to $26 billion by 2041, according to a recent report in The State newspaper.

Such rapidly increasing liabilities would jeopardize pensions for workers who are depending on the state pension fund to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

The unfunded liability could have an impact on state taxpayers, too. If the state is unable to meet obligations to retirees -- or if it appears those obligations will go unmet -- South Carolina could lose its much-coveted AAA credit rating. That would lead to higher interest rates if and when the state borrows money, and those higher interest rates would lead to higher taxes for everyone in the state.

So when public employees -- many of whom qualify for and receive public assistance due to their low incomes -- pay this additional penalty for the privilege of being a public worker and hoping for a small pension in their retirement, they should feel good about it. After all, they're paying more so that the rest of us won't be bothered.

It's a great burden they carry, I'm sure, but that's why we have an institutionalized and permanent underclass in South Carolina -- to do the work of the wealthy, and to protect them from feeling any pain.

Say, is it still true that the tax on purchases of yachts is capped in South Carolina at $300? It's highway robbery; I don't see why the yacht-sales tax couldn't be cut in half, or eliminated altogether. But that's a note for another day.

These are not easy decisions. But poor decisions and the economic collapse of 2008 have put the state pension fund -- and pension funds in many states -- in a significant hole. That unfunded liability would have significant consequences if it was not fixed. For starters, state employees might not receive the benefits they have been promised. That needed to be addressed.

Great points, but let's pause for a moment on the reference to "poor decisions;" they deserve some attention, and not to be glossed over.

South Carolina has enjoyed some boom years recently, when times were so spectacularly good that we could afford to cut taxes here, cut taxes there, give corporate incentives to locate in our state, give a passel of new corporate tax breaks, and still achieve our highest priorities -- among them, to weaken public schools, cut public employment rolls, reduce public services, and make the poor suffer even worse.

Hey, what's good governance if we can't achieve our priorities?

I have to believe that if, among all that tax-cutting and tax-breaking and incentivizing during the good times, our lawmakers had also invested a teensy bit more in the state retirement system, we might not have wound up in a precarious position as we have. I learned about compound interest in the fifth grade, so it mustn't take much brain power to understand that a tiny increase in investment, when invested appropriately, yields great rewards over the long term.

Poor decisions, indeed, if our legislators didn't attend to their responsibilities year after year after year after year when they could have honored their obligations to the state's workers.

If this bill passes the Senate and is signed by the governor, lawmakers will have been successful in implementing reasonable changes that will preserve benefits for public employees and protect taxpayers from the potential default of the retirement fund. Of course, the state needs to continue watching the fund's performance, and it needs to ensure that further adjustments are not needed.

God forbid that additional adjustments will be needed. We'll have to re-institute poorhouses in which to lodge our public employees when they're evicted from their rental houses, and when their public assistance benefits finally expire.

Other states are facing the same situation as South Carolina and some of them have begun exploring a move toward the 401(k)-style retirement funds that many private-sector workers rely on.

Oh, that's a fine idea. Let's leave our public workers' retirement benefits at the mercy of the stock market and its corporate master, who have just proven since 2008 that they answer to no authority but themselves, and they respect nothing but their own profits.

If that's our best option, we might as well send letters to our public employees advising them to work until they die, as it's the only way to ensure a little income through that eventuality -- with an emphasis on little.

Editors of the News seem more than a little enamored of this notion:

Legislators should at least study such an idea to determine if it's a long-term option for the state's retirement fund. The recent changes, however, could buy some time to see if more dramatic changes would be needed.

After all, public employment is public service, and public service is about sacrifice. Who better to demonstrate sacrifice than our public employees?

It is not unreasonable to ask state employees to make some sacrifices to ensure their retirement remains stable rather than asking taxpayers, many of whom are seeing less stable benefits, to foot the entire bill.

Especially -- it goes without saying -- our wealthiest citizens, who struggle already with the exorbitant sales taxes on their mansions, acreages and yachts. Damn it all, the line must be drawn somewhere!

That's especially true in an era when private-sector workers are being asked to get by with less help from their employer for retirement because of wage cuts or freezes, frozen benefits, and change-overs to defined contribution retirement plans.

Let's not stop with that short list; by all means, let's add because of statutes that prevent private-sector workers from bargaining collectively with their employers.

If we're going to kick the proletariat in the teeth, make sure to get all the way to the ones in the back, the wisdom teeth. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

These changes are fair, sensible and deserve to be passed. Then lawmakers need to watch carefully to ensure the pension fund can stay on the path to solvency while continuing to provide promised benefits to the many retirees who will rely on this fund during their golden years.

Golden years.

One laughs to keep from crying.

Royster tapped to succed Fisher in Greenville

The Greenville Board of Education voted last night to hire deputy superintendent Burke Royster to succeed retiring Superintendent Phinnize "Penny" Fisher as leader of South Carolina's largest school district.

In a split vote, Royster edged out Lynn Moody of Rock Hill and Eugene White of Indianapolis, Indiana.

The process to reach this decision was long and presumably intense, as the board met all day Saturday -- convening in the morning and adjourning at 11 p.m. without a decision -- and reconvened for three hours on Tuesday. Though the details of the board's executive sessions are formally confidential, word circulates that Royster benefited from an organized lobbying effort.

Several board members said after the vote that they had been pressured by numerous school district employees to hire Royster. They said they didn't believe that Royster was behind the effort.

Even so, the vote wasn't smooth or overwhelming.

After coming out of a closed session, the board voted 6-5 in favor of offering the job to Royster, with board Chairman Roger Meek abstaining. It takes seven votes to pass.

Trustee Leola Robinson-Simpson made a motion to continue the search. It failed on a 5-7 vote.

The board then voted again on Royster, and the motion passed 7-5.

Voting in favor of hiring Royster were Megan Hickerson, Lynda Leventis-Wells, Tommie Reece, Danna Rohleder, Chuck Saylors, Pat Sudduth and Meek. Voting no were Debi Bush, Glenda Morrison-Fair, Crystal Ball-O'Connor, Robinson-Simpson and Lisa Wells.

I'm surprised but pleased to learn that trustee Chuck Saylors advocated an open discussion on the finalists before voting -- surprised because personnel matters are always discussed in private, but pleased because it demonstrates Saylors's commitment to transparency. Lawmakers in Columbia could take a note from Saylors's effort.

Saylors made a motion before the closed session that the board conduct its deliberations in open session after failing to agree on which of three finalists to hire during a 14-hour meeting Saturday.

"I realize that a lot of the stuff we need to discuss is of a personnel nature," he said.

"But to be brutally honest with you, I think we have discussed some of this to death, and I think if we're going to have a conversation it needs to be in open session."

Robinson-Simpson, however, said it was necessary to hold the discussions in private "so we can maintain the integrity of all the fine candidates who were presented to us."

Saylors' motion failed 10-2, with Leventis-Wells siding with him.

Finalist White suffered from communication of mixed messages.

Earlier in the day, in Mobile, Ala., White, the finalist from Indianapolis, told a group of parents that he'd rather work in Mobile than Greenville. He is also a finalist there.

White told them that that he had told the Greenville school board that "once I got to Mobile, all bets were off. I wanted to come to Mobile anyway. Quite frankly, this is where I want to stay," The Mobile Press-Register reported.

White, a native of Phenix City, Ala., told a panel of parents that Mobile "would fit with some of the same values that I have. Coming back to Alabama to work is almost like going back to the future to me."

"It would be great to work my last eight to nine years in my home state. That's why I'm here," the newspaper reported.

In Greenville last week, White had told educators and parents that if Greenville offered him the job, he wouldn't be going to Mobile. Local media in Alabama linked to a videotape of his comments made by, which created a stir there, according to the Press-Register.

The school board in Mobile was interviewing three finalists Tuesday and today and is scheduled to make a decision Friday.

The third finalist, Rock Hill Superintendent Lynn Moody, praised the selection of Royster this morning.

“I am completely at peace with this decision,” Moody said early today. “I had very mixed feelings. It would have been a great opportunity but it would also be hard to leave.

“Everything that I have heard during or before this process about Burke Royster is that he’s an outstanding educator. I’m sure he will do an exemplary job. I look forward to working with him as a colleague. And will support him anyway that I can.

“I remember when the Rock Hill school board made that same decision for me.”

Haley attacks Rainey, hides behind secrecy rules

Despite his service as chairman of the state's Board of Economic Advisors, John Rainey is likely best known in South Carolina politics as the man who recruited Mark Sanford to run for governor in 2002. To put that decision in context, Sanford's reputation in 2002 was as a principled ultra-conservative -- even Libertarian -- Republican who was famous for limiting himself to three terms in Congress and sleeping in his Congressional office to save federal dollars.

As Sanford's mentor, Rainey cemented his reputation as a conservative godfather. So, say what one may about Rainey, but no sentient being would ever accuse him of being liberal, even progressive.

Yet Governor Nikki Haley has attacked Rainey this week in the most vicious political and personal terms to date. Through her mouthpiece, Haley called Rainey "an embittered old man with a political vendetta."

Haley is lashing out at Rainey in large part because of his principles on ethics -- principles that were, unfortunately for her, reinforced by Sanford when critics questioned his use of public funds during her term in office. At that time, Sanford waived his rights to confidentiality throughout the ethics investigation, ensuring that the media and the public would have access to findings.

Now that Haley is the focus of ethical questions -- questions posed by Rainey in the form of litigation -- her legislative critics have asked Haley to follow Sanford's lead and cooperate fully and openly.

But Haley has chosen a very different pair of strategies: First, stonewall and hide; second, attack Rainey.

Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday rebuffed House Democrats’ call for her to waive confidentiality in a possible ethics investigation, calling questions about work she did for a pair of her pre-gubernatorial employers a “waste of time.”

Through a spokesman, Haley said she would abandon confidentiality only if lawmakers want to change state law so that all past and future ethics complaints are public.

Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Harry Ott of Calhoun, said the first-term Republican governor who made increasing transparency a central plank in her 2010 campaign should “let some sunshine in.”

“Nobody is here to say that any laws have been broken, but the public has a right to know,” he said.

“It is time that we hold ourself to a higher standard.”

Democrats are pushing Haley to drop confidentiality after a circuit judge last week dismissed a complaint by GOP activist and former state Board of Economic Advisers Chairman John Rainey.

The complaint alleged that Haley used her state office during her time as a state representative from Lexington County to lobby in violation of state law while serving as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center foundation.

Let's keep in mind that when she was hired by the Lexington Medical Center as a fundraiser, she had no experience as a corporate fundraiser and no background in the health care industry. Her only qualification for the job seems to have been that she occupied a seat in the state legislature.

The filing also accused the governor of failing to disclose her work for another pre-gubernatorial employer on state campaign disclosure forms.

The judge didn’t rule on the merits of Rainey’s complaint, instead deciding that under state law, the House Ethics Committee must handle ethics issues involving a current or former state House member.

Any investigation of Haley by the committee would have to be triggered by a formal complaint, which any South Carolinian can file.

But the public is kept in the dark throughout much of the process.

By law, committee members and anybody who’s filed a complaint cannot comment on any investigation or complaint or face penalties.

Rainey cited that law in declining to comment Tuesday on whether he’s filed a complaint with the committee.

The longtime committee chairman, state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, said Tuesday that the subject of any investigation can drop confidentiality, making the process “open.”

Democrats said Haley should follow in the footsteps of her one-time political mentor, former Gov. Mark Sanford, in waiving confidentiality in the event of a committee investigation, which would likely center on the charges presented in Rainey’s lawsuit.

A spokesman for Haley said Tuesday that Rainey is “an embittered man with a political vendetta.”

“He has already wasted the time of the courts,” Rob Godfrey said in a statement. “He can try to waste the time of the General Assembly. He will not waste any of the governor’s time.”

Godfrey said questions about the allegations lobbed by Rainey already have been answered and that the regular procedures should be followed if there is an ethics complaint.

This response fits the definition of a "fig leaf." Go back to the date that these questions were originally asked, and you'll find that Haley and her ilk dismissed the questions as baseless, just political theater. Now, when questions are raised, the response is that the questions are old and were addressed long ago. This is taught in Basic Political Obfuscation 101.

“We’re confident that the ethics committee will come to the same conclusion as every other entity that Mr. Rainey has shopped this nonsense to — that it is entirely baseless,” Godfrey said.

House Democrats unveiled a package of bills last week that included a measure to eliminate the state House and Senate ethics committees and turn investigations of previous and current lawmakers over to the State Ethics Commission.

Reporter Robert Kittle of WSPA added a bit more to the day's coverage, further illustration of the obfuscation strategy:

"If there is an ethics complaint about matters that took place years ago – and that have already been answered again and again – the regular procedures should be followed," Godfrey wrote in a news release Tuesday. "Regular procedures" mean the public won't know whether a complaint has been filed.

In other words, it's the same-old, same-old -- the very status quo that Haley campaigned against, when transparency was her favorite word.

The possibility of an ethics complaint stems from a lawsuit against the governor by John Rainey, a leading Republican fundraiser and former chairman of the Board of Economic Advisors under Gov. Mark Sanford. He filed the lawsuit in state Circuit Court, but Judge Casey Manning dismissed the suit last week, saying the matter was for the State Ethics Commission or legislative Ethics Committees to decide.

The suit alleges Haley illegally lobbied state lawmakers and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control while she was a member of the House and was working for Lexington Medical Center, which was trying to get state approval for a new open-heart surgery center.

The suit also claims she failed to disclose on her campaign filings that she also worked for Wilber Smith, an engineering firm with state contracts. Haley has denied any wrongdoing, and said previously that state law did not require her to report her work for Wilbur Smith.

Since the lawsuit was dismissed and the judge explained the proper venues for the complaints, it's expected that Rainey will file a complaint with either the State Election Commission or House Ethics Committee.

House Democrats on Tuesday afternoon called on the governor to waive confidentiality.

"Nobody is here today to say that any rules were broken, but we are here to say that the public has a right to know," said Rep. Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, House Minority Leader. "We believe Gov. Haley, particularly after running on a platform of transparency in government, needs to be the transparent governor that she wants to be and say to the people of South Carolina, 'I have nothing to hide. I'm going to waive my confidentiality clause and let the public know what is or is not going on.'"

It has happened before. Then-governor Mark Sanford waived confidentiality when he faced ethics charges before the State Ethics Commission over his use of state airplanes and state travel money.

When asked by 7 On Your Side Tuesday morning whether she would waive confidentiality, Gov. Haley said she wouldn't talk about it unless there was a complaint. When told there was no way to know whether a complaint had been filed, she said, "Well, when there is one you can let me know."

This is laughable. Our state's chief potentate does a two-step around the media, inviting them to let her know if a confidential ethics investigation is initiated against her.

Why are ethics complaints confidential? Rep. J. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, says it's state law. Don't taxpayers have a right to know whether the elected officials being paid by their tax dollars have ethics complaints against them?

"I will not disagree with you, but we have to abide by the law and the law says that it's confidential," he says. "I can't even acknowledge if there is a complaint at any time or if there's not a complaint."

Godfrey, Haley's spokesman, says of the lawsuit and possible ethics complaint,

"John Rainey is an embittered man with a political vendetta. He has already wasted the time of the courts. He can try to waste the time of the General Assembly. He will not waste any of the governor’s time. If there is an ethics complaint about matters that took place years ago – and that have already been answered again and again – the regular procedures should be followed, and we’re confident that the ethics committee will come to the same conclusion as every other entity that Mr. Rainey has shopped this nonsense to – that it is entirely baseless."


As baseless as were Haley's qualifications for South Carolina's highest public office?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rainey continues fight for transparency, ethics

Former chairman of the Board of Economic Advisors John Rainey continues to fight for clean government, transparency and ethics, with a terrific column in today's edition of the Orangeburg Times and Democrat.

The resignation of former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, followed shortly by his indictment and guilty plea, marks another milestone in the long road of ethical lapses by public officials in South Carolina. One might have thought that Lost Trust, the 1992 sting operation wherein several legislators were caught essentially selling their votes, would have served as a corrective for future politicians, but they continue to live up (or down) to expectation.

We now learn from the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity (Center) that South Carolina ranks 45th among the 50 states and scored an “F” on the Center’s “State Integrity Investigation.” Components of the report card for which South Carolina individually received an “F” included Public Access to Information, Executive Accountability, Legislative Accountability, Judicial Accountability, State Budget Processes, State Civil Service Management and Ethics Enforcement Agencies.

One of the center’s criteria for judging state ethics agencies is “In law, the agency or set of agencies tasked with enforcing state ethics rules has jurisdiction across all branches (including legislatures) of the state government.” The grade for South Carolina is zero because the South Carolina General Assembly polices itself on the question of ethics, contrary to the best practices as defined by the center.

South Carolina’s ethics laws, however, are lax for all public officials, not just legislators. The ethics laws themselves require something less than full ethical behavior, which could be one of the reasons that South Carolina scored an “F” in this area.

I resigned as chairman of the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisors effective Dec. 10, 2010. I received in March, 2011, $5,000 in deferred pay for the year 2010 from the BEA.

While in the process of preparing my 2011 Statement of Economic Interest for the calendar year 2010, I inquired of the South Carolina State Ethics Commission (Ethics) whether I should report the $5,000 then or I should plan to file another SEI in 2012 in order to report wages received in 2011. Ethics informed me, in fact, that I needed to file no report at all in 2011 (for 2010) since I no longer held the office as of April 15, 2011.

General counsel Cathy Hazelwood informed my office by email that, “Mr. Rainey doesn’t need to file a 2011 SEI. You file if you’re in the position on April 15, 2011. He’s not, so no filing is required. I would delete the one you’ve started unless he must file for some other position.”

South Carolina law indeed states that, “A person required to file a Statement who is no longer in office on April 15 of the year following the first filing, is not required to file an updated Statement.” This regulation, to add insult to injury, became law in 1997 as part of the post-Lost Trust ethics “reforms”. It was written by Ethics and sent to the General Assembly which, according to its 1997 Journal, never voted on it, thereby allowing it to become law since Regulations require a negative vote to stop them. The whole lot, therefore, collaborated to create by law a period of time during which public officials may hide from public scrutiny.

The public lost its right to know whether a public official received anything that may have constituted a conflict of interest during this time. Such a conflict, if it existed, remains unknown unless probable cause ever exists for law enforcement to investigate.

Our ethics laws release from their requirements public officials at the very time when they know that they will not again face scrutiny by election or confirmation. This could not be more backwards.

Ken Ard, for instance, may choose to not file this year a SEI for 2011 during which he served as lieutenant governor simply because he will not hold the office on April 15, 2012. He also, of course, may choose not to file in 2013 a SEI for the 2-1/2 months of 2012 during which he held office.

This 14-1/2-month free pass on ethics reporting simply boggles the mind, particularly since the pass resulted from a resignation stemming from ethics reporting violations.

I filed a SEI in 2011 (for 2010), including the $5,000 paid to me in 2011, simply because the spirit of the ethics law calls for full disclosure during one’s tenure in office.

I urge Ken Ard to file for 2011 and 2012. This, however, is not about Mr. Ard. This is about the fact that our ethics laws make a farce of the notion of accountability and transparency, and therefore contribute to the status of South Carolina as a national laughingstock. And so it goes.

PLThomasEdD: Zais lacks experience, expertise

Blogger PLThomasEdD, who posts at DailyKos, published another great commentary there yesterday, this one taking Superintendent Mick Zais to task for his claims in an opinion-editorial in The State.

I hope readers will share PLThomasEdD's commentary far and wide among educators, because he's precisely the sort of education leader that's missing from government: Experienced, expert and circumspect.

South Carolina's Superintendent of Education Mick Zais makes several claims in The State (March 25, 2012) that build on one central argument: "The most important information about teachers isn’t the degrees they have or their years of seniority. Their effectiveness in the classroom matters much, much more."

Like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Zais has no experience teaching children in K-12 public education. This complete lack of teaching experience and degrees in the field of education is a suspect position from which to claim that these two characteristics do not matter. In fact, political appointees and elected officials sit in unique positions often above both accountability (the mantra du jour of the political elite regarding education) and qualifications—unlike the real world markets they often praise.

Since the early 1980s, U.S. public education has been experimenting with accountability, standards, testing, and school report cards. In 2012, every single state as well as educational leaders at the federal level have declared those public schools failures or inadequate.

Zais's solution to this dynamic echoes the national argument now facing our public schools:

Accountability, standards, testing, and school report cards have failed, they argue, thus the solution is more and different accountability, standards, testing, and report cards!

This complete failure in logic and context resonates only with those without the exact qualities Zais and Duncan reject—teaching experience and formal preparation in teaching and learning.

I have taught now for 28 years, including 18 years teaching public high school English in rural SC. What has benefited me most in those years teaching?

Without question, the single greatest contribution to my effectiveness as a teacher has been experience. I am significantly superior today to the teacher I was nearly 3 decades ago, and I am certain I am now a pale version of what I'll be in the coming decade.

Inextricable from the importance of experience are my degrees in education and my scholarship over my career.

In what profession does experience and knowledge of the field not matter? Do we want medical doctors without experience and education in medicine? Airplane pilots without experience flying planes?

But our elected and appointed education leaders are not alone in this total lack of credibility to portray education accurately or to pose solutions needed for our persistent challenges to teach and learn in our public schools. Political leadership would have much less power and influence if our media took the responsibility to challenge and confront the repeated false claims and hollow solutions coming from our state and federal government concerning schools.

Secretary Duncan and Superintendent Zais, for example, are allowed the bully pulpit of their positions, without regard to their lack of experience or expertise. As a result, the public is fed a continuous stream of misinformation and jumbled logic. Let's consider a few in Zais's commentary.

• Teacher experience and degrees do not matter, but classroom effectiveness does? This claim falls apart when we examine what constitutes classroom effectiveness. Ample research shows that teacher effectiveness includes significant correlations with experience and degrees (see HERE), thus the initial claim poses a false dichotomy and a disturbing lack of awareness of the field of education.

• Measuring teacher effective on fixed test scores is a failure but value added methods solve that problem? Again, this is a common-sense sounding argument that has power among those who haven't taught and those without knowledge of the field. But the overwhelming patterns of evidence concerning VAM-style teacher and school accountability, even by those advocating the practice, show that VAM is unstable and not a credible avenue for guiding accountability policy. [1]

• School report cards fail because they have used "ambiguous terms," but new report cards will work because they will label schools with A through F ratings? This is the most troubling and illogical argument I have seen recently. How is an "A" less ambiguous than "Met"? Both require that anyone wanting to know what either means has some sort of rubric for how this singular notation captures some set of criteria. The problem is not the labeling format, but the act of labeling and the failure to acknowledge that all labeling and ranking systems used to sort children, teachers, and schools overwhelmingly reflect the status of the student's life outside of the control of the student, teacher, or school. Test-based data remain in 2012 a proxy for the socioeconomic conditions of any child's life more so than an accurate representation of teaching or learning.*

And this leads to a final similarity between Zais and Duncan. In Zais's commentary, he fails to acknowledge or mention poverty even once (although SC sits in the bottom quartile of affluence in the nation)—just as Duncan is apt to do in his many speeches.

The unacknowledged truth about education in SC and across the U.S. is that schools that struggle are burdened by the weight of poverty and too often fail to confront social inequity by perpetuating inequity through policies such as standardized testing, tracking students, and disproportionate disciplinary practices.

Leadership without expertise is no leadership at all, and it leads only to more troubling and ironic conclusions. Zais ends his commentary with: "Student learning is at the heart of accountability and educator evaluation. Our new evaluation system puts students first. It has the potential to transform education in South Carolina."

Yes, if the new evaluation system is mandated, transformation will occur, that is if we are willing to consider destroying teacher autonomy and morale, student engagement and deep understanding, and public school stability as transformation.

[1] See Bruce Baker's detailed examinations of value-added methods at School Finance 101. Also note that Dr. Baker has experience and formal training in the areas about which he presents information.

* Leaders without experience, preparation, or scholarship in the field of education have neither current nor historical context for their claims. Even a cursory examination of the Poverty Index and school report cards used in SC reveal the powerful connection between poverty and measurable student outcomes. This same dynamic is revealed in the data from the College Board in every single year the SAT has been administered as well.

Haley ignores education questions, promotes book

A huge thank-you to Paul Bowers of the Charleston City Paper for catching Governor Nikki Haley's book-promotion gimmick on Facebook yesterday and documenting the interaction. If such things happen again, we should share the word as quickly as possible, to get as many interested South Carolinians as possible involved in asking questions.

That is, the ones who are Haley's Facebook friends.

Here are some highlights from Bowers's report:

Gov. Nikki Haley opened the floodgates on her Facebook page Sunday afternoon, announcing that she would be riding in the car for a while and would be available to answer people's questions and comments.

Predictably, some of the questions were rhetorical in nature, and there was a rush of back-patting from her fans.

This is reportedly the only sort of interaction allowed by Haley on her Facebook page. Offer critique, and you're unfriended.

Haley also worked in a pitch for her upcoming memoir, Can't Is Not an Option, which is set for release April 3 (and by the way, if you're interested, she will be signing copies of the book on April 9 at 6 p.m. at Blue Bicycle Books).

Great head's-up to all those in the Charleston area who may want to organize themselves for the purpose of exercising free speech rights and communicating some messages to the state's chief executive. That's Blue Bicycle Books, April 9, 6 p.m.

But some of the legitimate questions got illuminating answers. Here are a few of the questions, followed by Haley's responses:

Do you have interest to become a GOP senator in the future? I have no desire right now to run for US Senate. I am perfectly happy being Governor of the best state in the country!

Notice the qualifier "right now." Ugh. Guess that means Lindsey's terms are numbered.

But also notice the generic "best state in the country." Not the "state where children are treated best, and domestic violence is non-existent, and rural communities thrive, and public education is best supported," because, unfortunately, none of those qualifiers would be true. Good that she went with "best state in the country."

Carolina or Clemson? Go Tigers!

It seems almost daily here in SC where a parent or person is being arrested for child abuse. What can be done to make longer sentences for child abusers? Contact your legislators to push for tougher standards on child abuse.

Ah, the old "contact your legislators" dodge.

I'm the governor, here. Passing laws against child abuse is not part of governor-ing. And why bring up child abuse in a Facebook chat anyway? Don't be such a downer. Geez. I'm trying to sell a book, for Pete's sake.

How's the SC tax reform coming along? The House did not include our tax reform in their budget. Please contact the Senate and remind them that it is your money.

Ooh, good one. Beat up on the House for not kowtowing to the Queen, and the Senate for not acting fast enough. Classy.

Governor Haley, serious question: How do you think other states should improve to be more competitive for jobs? Right to work state's [sic] and fair and balanced tax structures are the key to job growth and retention.

Anytime [sic] has to appear in text, it's not a good sign. But look at her, selling the old "right-to-work-for-less" ideology like its ice cream: Poor people, be happy with the meager pittances you get for your hard work; ignore your hunger by imagining the taste of ripe strawberries in your mouth!

What can we do to bring good clean prosperous industry to Williamsburg Co? The way we help Winnsboro is the way we help every other part of our state, we have to seriously reform our tax code, increase educational options, strengthen our workforce training so that we match those unemployed with companies that need jobs, and continue to reduce regulations on businesses. all of the things we work on everyday [sic]. thanks!

Did Haley really mean to suggest that Winnsboro is in Williamsburg County? I just re-read the question, and the question definitely asked how industry could be brought to Williamsburg County, yet Haley's response was about Winnsboro, in Fairfield County, a full 111 miles northwest of Williamsburg's county seat.

It must be a right-wing-governor thing. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin didn't know that the head of government in Great Britain is the prime minister, either, or that "the Fed" refers to the Federal Reserve System, which regulates American monetary policy. Here in South Carolina, our governor doesn't know Winnsboro from Williamsburg County.

That's our governor!

Just want to know...have you and the kids seen The Hunger Games??? We have not seen The Hunger Games but can't wait!

I haven't seen the film either, but according to the synopses readily available on the internet, the Haley family needn't wait to see "The Hunger Games," or even go to a theater to see it. They can see the film's basic themes played out just by taking a leisurely drive through their city and state.

I live in NC and am very impressed with your jobs creation. Do you have any plans to meet with Pat McCrory when he is the new NC governor to discuss how SC is bringing jobs to the Southeast? I have already been campaigning some with Pat McCrory and look forward to partnering with him to better the Carolinas.

So in addition to flitting about various northeastern states to campaign for her favored presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and in addition to meeting Georgia's governor in secret in Augusta to discuss their plans for the port at Savannah, Haley has also found time to cross our northern border and meddle in the affairs of North Carolina.

Hopefully, while she's in North Carolina, she might ask questions about how that state achieved and has maintained a respectable education budget during the past forty years, even paying its teachers at the national average -- way better than the tired old "$300 above the Southeastern average."

What are your thoughts on open carry? I believe SC is one of 6 states that doesnt allow it. As a CWP holder myself, I have and would support open carry laws in SC.

Why is unemployment so broken, I have had people steal from us and then get benefits. Why can't SC at least drug test people that want or need assistance? I support drug testing FTP receive unemployment benefits.

Saints be praised. I wonder how long our governor has been packing heat?

This is why the rest of Western civilization stares at us with their mouths open. It's not awe, it's disbelief.

The questions that Haley chose not to answer were also noteworthy. Here are a few of the queries she left hanging:

• You're doing a great job Nikki! One comment though: our son has special needs (verbal apraxia) and we've recently set up our education plan with our Greenville County School District. They could not provide a special ed classroom for him because of the high criteria, even though he is non-verbal and cannot communicate with the students and staff at his private preschool. There is a gap for children with only communication needs that needs to be filled, and soon!

• What can you do to help the FIRST robotics teams of the state...existing and up and their season. Nick Zais actually did show up at our competition this weekend and got to see what we do with our kids first hand. The problem is teams are struggling from lack of funding. This is too good of a program to let slip away.

• Are you a supporter of TFA [Teach For America] and other programs like it, seeking to get the best teachers/leaders in front of ALL classrooms, no matter the ZIP code?

• Why does your budget call for more cuts in spending for education? I'm an educator and with all these cuts on top of local and federal bureaucracy it is making it harder and harder to want to stay teaching.

• Do you have any plans to be more supportive of the teachers and the law enforcement in our state? The retirement bill that is being passed doesn't appear to be showing any support. Taking more money, lowering the benefits and extending the time to work. We haven't gotten any pay raises in a quite a while and the government is talking about taking more from us. The pay raises that were talked about a month ago won't amount to anything if this retirement bill passes. What is your explanation for this?


So let's review the highlights.

Talking about her upcoming book? Great.

Leaving the state to campaign for wingnuts elsewhere? Great.

Supporting Clemson? Great.

Promoting a new film about killing the children of the 99 percent for the entertainment of the one percent? Great.

Burnishing her chick-with-a-gun credentials? Great.

Denigrating poor people who rely on our social safety net for subsistence? Great.

Tightening penalties for child abuse? Ugh: Pass the buck to lawmakers.

Tax relief? Great AND pass the buck to lawmakers -- a two-fer!

South Carolina geography? Ugh: Pivot to the talking points. Who cares that Winnsboro isn't near Williamsburg County? Both start with Dubya!

But anything having to do with addressing parents' concerns about public education, and service for their children, and protecting innovative school programs, and supporting teachers and other public employees?


Which is precisely what many of us are saying about Haley's place in the line of South Carolina's governors.