Friday, March 16, 2012

Anderson Independent Mail weighs in against vouchers

The headline tells the tale: "Here we go again."

Editors of the Anderson Independent Mail, hometown newspaper to Rep. Brian White, chairman of South Carolina's House Ways and Means Committee, have issued their position on the newest-and-unimproved version of the voucher-and-tax-deduction bill sure to arise in the next couple of weeks.

Funding private education with public money via tax credits or other means has been a divisive issue in South Carolina for almost a decade. It continues to rear its head in each legislative session, usually aided by the same lawmakers who bring it up every year. And each session, it fails.

The current session should end on that same note.

Elegant simplicity.

The latest version, sponsored by Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, and Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, was advanced by Ways and Means by a vote of 16-8, the Associated Press reports. Sixty lawmakers have signed on as sponsors. Parents will be able to take a $4,000 tax deduction per child for tuition paid, $2,000 for home-school expenses and $1,000 for parents who send their children to a public school outside the district.

The proposal won’t come up for consideration until after the budget debate, White said, and then just in negotiations after the Senate passes its spending plan. But it’s all been said before. The biggest difference in this plan is merely an accounting change: tax deductions rather than tax credits.

Donors to new nonprofits that give scholarships to poor and disabled students can claim tax credits for those donations. Yet few students will be helped by parents’ ability to claim tax deductions if paying for school up front isn’t possible, or if their child fails to qualify for a scholarship to help the donors’ tax liability. The two highlights of the proposal add up to just one thing: less money for public schools.

Only thing missing is the reference to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing organization that incubates bad ideas and distributes them to state legislators in the form of "model" legislation.

It's like buying a term paper: All you have to do is change the title, the page numbers, maybe edit the footnotes, and slap one's own name at the top. Voila!

Over the years millions of dollars in out-of-state money rolled in — and will likely continue to roll in — to advance school choice via contributions to political campaigns.

It’s not about advancing education. Why should out-of-state donors care about South Carolina’s children? Apparently some lawmakers don’t; why expect a stranger to?

When funding for public education is diverted to private education, we all lose. Why is it so difficult for some lawmakers to grasp that an educated populace, regardless of whether the taxpayer has a child in the system, is vital to the state overall, both economically and with respect to business development?

Instead of looking for ways to take money from the public schools — after already sending our per-pupil spending to levels of more than a decade ago — we should be looking more closely at ways to help public-school students thrive. While that doesn’t mean more money is the answer, it insults us all when political motivations are disguised as being “for the children.”

White’s proposal is somewhat cheaper than past versions, according to the AP, but one glaring omission in his plan is there is no proposal on how to pay for it, nor how to make up the estimated $37 million reduction in state revenues in one year alone.

If the people funding all this legislative push to further damage public education ever deign to visit South Carolina, let’s be sure to show them the truth: overcrowded classrooms, demoralized teachers and thousands of students who are tacitly being told they’re not as important as they — and their parents — always hoped.

Thank you, editors, thank you.

One more thing and then we’ll descend from this familiar soapbox for the day. Democrats, reports The State newspaper, “argued that the legislation lacks accountability. Republicans countered that parents would hold the schools they choose accountable on their own.”

Unlike in public education, however, teachers and administrators in private schools don’t have to listen. And, despite any personal convictions about education, by law they don’t even have to care.

No comments:

Post a Comment