Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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.

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