Monday, March 26, 2012

Parents defending public schools offend right wing

Here's the good that has come from this post: Anyone wishing to communicate their support for traditional public schools in South Carolina are armed with a great set of talking points!

As I understand it, a family moved to a small town in South Carolina because of the "notoriety" of its public schools. (No, I don't understand that reference, either.) And when they arrived, they joined the local PTA and happily signed up to receive the PTA's email updates.

But now that the PTA is expressing its displeasure at so-called "school choice" legislation, the family is offended that the PTA is disseminating such information to their email distribution list.

Rational reaction: Delete the email; ask to be removed from the email distribution list; stop baking cupcakes for the ubiquitous PTA fundraisers that make up for budget cuts by lawmakers.

This family's decision: Disseminate PTA's talking points against the anti-public education legislation to an even wider audience, including the readers of this little blog.

For which I say, thanks!

As a mother of four, the first of which entered public school last year, keeping up with my children’s education is extremely important to me. I’ve heard the stories of children fearing the end of the world due to global warming and seen the history books that exclude any Republican or Conservative from the important events that have shaped our country. My husband and I moved to a small town in South Carolina due in part to the notoriety of the schools. I immediately joined the PTA, looking forward to communicating and working with other parents to help our children achieve the high standards to which we hold them accountable.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, this PTA had an agenda and used its access to my email address to push that agenda.

So here come the good parts. Take note:

Action needed
Please contact your House representative by 1 p.m., Tuesday, March 20, 2012 and urge him to vote against the tuition tax credit/voucher bill, House bill 4894 (see contact information below).


Having completed the budget, the full House may take up the tuition tax credit/voucher bill this week. To see a longer summary of the bill from the March 14 Day At The Capitol handout, click here. Basically, the bill would:

Provide a state income tax deduction of up to $4,000 for tuition (fees for attending the school and school-related transportation) paid by a parent or legal guardian for their child or ward to attend an independent school defined as a school, other than a public school.

Provide a state income tax deduction of up to $1,000 for tuition (fees for attending the school and school-related transportation) paid by a parent or legal guardian for their child or ward to attend a public school outside the child’s or ward’s resident school district.

Provide a state income tax deduction of up to $2,000 per home school student per year for instruction related expenditures.

Provide a dollar-for-dollar credit on state income tax, insurance premium taxes or bank license fees for contributions made to non-profit scholarship funding organizations that would provide “grants” to low-income students in public schools to attend an qualifying independent school.

Here's where the parent realizes that the PTA actually has a mission, which includes strengthening the public schools attended by its members' children.

After providing this fairly benign review of some of the specifics related to H.4894, the email turned into what amounted to a Democrat party spam email as the PTA laid out the position echoed by the South Carolina School Board Association (SCSBA) which apparently the school PTA is on board with.

Well, I would have phrased it differently: "...with which the school PTA is apparently on board." But when there's a bill on the floor to dismantle public education, who's worrying about terminal prepositions?

"Democrat party spam email"? Really?

A word of historical context. In the past eight years or so, attempts have been made to pass voucher legislation in South Carolina roughly nine hundred times. And each time, it's been defeated in the House of Representatives which, during that same period, has had a group of Democrats commonly referred to as the House Minority. "Minority" means "not the majority."

For a bill to be defeated, the House minority relies upon a good number of votes from members of the House Majority -- in this case, Republicans.

So, if a good number of Republicans agree with Democrats that dismantling public schools is hardly a good idea, then the PTA may not actually be distributing "Democrat party spam email." Rather, it may be contributing to a dialogue that reflects mainstream South Carolinians' views on destroying public schools.

Further, unless I'm mistaken, the PTA is a fully autonomous body, made up of parents and educators who determine their own positions on legislative proposals. If a PTA opposes the destruction of public schools, it may be because the parents who live in a given community oppose that destruction. Hmm.

All right. Here, the parents discovers the state school boards association's position on destroying public schools:

Position statement

SCSBA opposes state or federally-mandated efforts to directly or indirectly subsidize elementary or secondary private, religious or home schools with public funds.

The smoking gun! And the parent expresses her outrage at being informed thusly:

After giving contact info for representatives, the PTA helpfully provides talking points for any parents who don’t have any idea why they should care about this.

Okay, folks, here are the talking points. Cut, paste, distribute freely and thank our offended parent later:

Talking points

How can the General Assembly consider a bill that would result in a loss of $37 million in state revenues (just in the first year alone) when:

public schools have had their funding cut by more than $700 million;

the base student cost is presently at $1,880 per student but should be at $2,790 per student;

and fully funding the BSC would require some $600 million

the state cannot meet existing obligation to adequately fund vital state agency and services, including law enforcement, healthcare, local government funds, etc.

Tuition tax credit/voucher programs are unaffordable, unaccountable to taxpayers and unproven.

The proposal is inconsistent with recent calls for comprehensive tax reforms, including the elimination of some sales and service tax exemptions by creating four more exemptions.

The proposal is inconsistent with conservative principles including the creation of a government entitlement program for private schoolers and home schoolers and grows government by adding new duties for the Department of Revenue and the Education Oversight Committee. Funding for public schools must be a top priority! Until we meet our financial commitment to public school students, there must be no consideration for a plan that would divert public tax dollars to private schools for tuition.

But there's more! Our angry parent erupts, "Even a sample message to send!" and gives us the sample message offered to PTA members to use in communicating with their lawmakers by email.

Sample message

Dear Representative :

I urge you to vote against the private school tuition tax credit/deduction/voucher bill, H.4894. The bill’s negative fiscal impact to the state’s general fund of $37 million is staggering when our state cannot meet its existing obligations to K-12 education and other vital state services, including local government funding. In addition to the significant funding cuts to education in recent years, the base student cost (BSC) under the Education Finance Act is presently at $1,880 per student when it should be $2,790 per student by state law. In fact, fully funding the BSC would require some $600 million.

Finally, lawmakers’ recent calls for the need to eliminate certain tax exemptions and loopholes and supported by businesses, citizens, and educators seems to contradict a proposal that would create yet another special-interest tax exemption through for paying tuition to a private school or for homeschooling with no accountability equivalent to the public schools. Another tax credit program would only add to the horribly unbalanced tax system already in existence in South Carolina.

I can't believe how much time and effort this offended parent has saved those of us who have been drafting talking points of our own, and laboring to craft our own messages to legislators.

Sadly, this parent didn't use the information; she lashed out instead, seeking retribution to those who would defend public schools in her community. She writes:

Immediately I wrote back to them, including the school principal and the local chairman of the Republican party, expecting quickly to receive an apology and a promise not to misuse the PTA email privileges again; or at the least a response from the Republican leader that he would look into the matter.

Apparently, however, the issue was so important that no one even bothered to email me back. While it’s never happened to me before, I am left to assume that inserting one’s personal political agenda into official school emails is so commonplace that it is unworthy of discussion. It was a big surprise for me personally. Our area in South Carolina is very red and our schools are among the best in the state.

Can you believe the nerve of these PTA parents, that they should want to preserve schools that "are among the best in the state"?

Surely, I thought, no one local would have a problem with people in other areas working to provide the best education for their children.

I must confess, the logic of this set of assertions escapes me: Our own local schools are excellent, therefore we must support the destruction of public schools elsewhere in South Carolina.

The parent goes on, and I'm almost embarrassed to include her further remarks. But, for your benefit, I will:

I’m not planning on taking my kids out their public school

Well, don't do anyone any favors, please. Follow your bliss where it leads.

but I fully support the right of other parents to choose a different option; and they shouldn’t have to pay for my children in addition to theirs. School Choice is something that people from both sides of the aisle should be able to agree on as it does nothing but promote competition for tax dollars and gives families much needed choices.

Respectfully, I think that most South Carolinians want precisely what this parent has: Well-funded public schools that benefit from the support of a healthy local tax base and engaged parents.

I’m fortunate that my kids attend a school that gets high marks, but many schools do not.

True, and we've been working on improving this for a while. A long while. Decades. Generations. Often against the opposition of a lot of narrow-minded and stingy lawmakers who believe some children don't deserve to learn.

Let’s stop rewarding them and focus on what’s best for the children: having options in education.

I think that if we were to commit to making all of South Carolina's public schools great, the options would resolve themselves.

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