Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Floyd praises wealthfare, criticizes citizens' ignorance

In 2006, Karen Floyd of Spartanburg ran for state Superintendent of Education and tried diligently to avoid acknowledging her support for publicly-funded private school vouchers.

Now that the State House has approved such a measure for the first time, Floyd has published an opinion-editorial -- in Mount Pleasant, of all places -- praising that news and celebrating her long-time support for vouchers or, as she calls it, "school choice."

Of course, different people use different terms to describe the bill approved last week. One that has a particularly resonant ring is "wealthfare," defined as (1) the redistribution of wealth from the poor and working-class to the already-wealthy, by government policy, and (2) government subsidy of private preferences for purposes of social engineering, which may include re-segregation.

Where welfare is filthy, "wealthfare" is pretty. As welfare is ugly and dull, "wealthfare" glistens in iridescence.

In her opinion-editorial, Floyd never mentions the word "wealthfare," but she describes it as vividly as if she's always lived in its neighborhood.

I am the product of public education: from Irmo Elementary School to a Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Likewise our identical twin sons have received excellent educations in public schools from Pine Street Elementary School to the Freshman Academy at Spartanburg High School. I can point to seminal teachers and coaches that have impacted their lives in positive ways, and we are forever grateful to each one. In the ninth grade, however, we made a change – a choice. While one son was flourishing, the other son was not reaching his potential. No fault lies with any person, process or institution. Though it has always been apparent that our twin sons, despite being identical, learned differently, responded differently and were challenged differently, it was not until mid-way through the ninth grade that our family chose an educational option other than public education, for one son.

A good editor might have cut this paragraph down to size thusly: "A lawyer sent one of her sons to a private school."

Fine and dandy.

Today, one son continues to thrive in the diverse and rich tapestry at Spartanburg High School while the other son has found his place at the Christian Academy of Oakbrook Preparatory School. As I write today, both sons are turkey hunting on Youth Day with my husband, their proud father. Despite tremendous similarities, a snapshot of this past Friday demonstrates the environmental distinctions from which our boys thrive. One son left our home early Friday with the face paint remnants from the previous night’s Lacrosse game still on his face, the other son left with “work clothes” complete with heavy duty yard gloves and sun screen (knowing full well the probability of sun screen actually being used was limited, at best). Though Spartanburg High School varsity lacrosse lost to Dorman the night before, our son was excited for practice later that day to hear what the Coaches “take” on the game might be, and what lessons were learned from the defeat. Our other son headed off to a service day at Hatcher Gardens where he and other students from Oakbrook Academy fulfilled their community service by working in the garden for the entire school day. Both children’s needs were met and they were growing in distinctively different ways despite genetic and environmental links.

Again: Why this was published in Mount Pleasant, where life is "pleasanter," escapes me, as it's all about life in Spartanburg.

Again, using the editor's knife: "Her sons find that opportunities available in public schools and private schools are designed to be different."

Here, Floyd turns philosophical-ideological.

“School Choice” has been a buzzword, and a political litmus test for almost a decade in South Carolina. State Representatives first voted on the issue in 2004, but individual lawmakers, such as State Senator Lewis Vaughn, began sowing the seeds years before.

Odd that she chose to highlight former Rep. Vaughn, who told a press conference on February 26, 2004 that he has supported alternatives to public schools since 1957 because "I went to a school that didn't do very well by us kids."

Almost three months later on May 12, during House debate, Vaughn announced, "If you take enough of 'em (students) out (of public schools), you can close one."

And a year later, on April 18, 2005, Vaughn moved to table a voucher-bill amendment by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter with these words: "I can't let you win this one. If you want to kill any change to school choice, you bring all these schools under regulation, and then you don't have a bill any more. Private schools aren't going to submit to regulation under state government."

But those were the days of accountability and transparency, so long ago. How things change.

Floyd continues, "During that decade of deliberation other states passed and aggressively expanded school choice plans." She notes a few examples of novelties adopted when radical majorities took control of government in some states, but she neglects to mention the instances of such novelties being declared unconstitutional, and others leading to criminal and civil litigation from fraud.

Then she explains that the primary reason for South Carolinians' refusal to spend public dollars on private schools is, literally, our ignorance. She puts lipstick on the word and rephrases it "lack of understanding," but lack of understanding is ignorance. Therefore, we've been ignorant all these years, and our ignorance has kept us from accepting the concept of wealthfare through private school subsidies.

The biggest obstacle to the parental choice movement in South Carolina has been the lack of understanding of what School Choice is and the rhetorical terms of the debate.

We're so unsophisticated, we working-class folk here in South Carolina. We lay in need of education -- what irony!

School Choice should be for every family. Independent education choices should also be available for every child, not the privilege of the economic elite.

On topics of independent education, I enjoy hearing the reminiscences of South Carolina's Tom Turnipseed, who helped to organize segregation academies into an association of independent schools back in the 1960s and 1970s before having a change of heart and exposing the motives behind the growth of those schools in the first place. As I understand it, those schools sprung up overnight as a reaction to Brown v Board of Education, and our aristocracy's insistence upon keeping everyone in their assigned place through continued segregation under other names.

So when I hear "independent education" praised, I think of the desire to keep the little children of the wealthy over here, and everyone else's children, black and white, over there. That seems to be the difference between public education and "independent education."

Floyd mentions the commentary of Rep. Rita Allison in last week's floor debate, as well as the thoughts of Rep. Eric Bedingfield. As I read her quote by Bedingfield, I am struck at the similarities between it and the comments made in the 1950s and 1960s in favor of keeping schools segregated:

He stressed that school choice was an issue of how lawmakers set the field for parents to make choices, rather than a micromanagement of specific school policies and programs. “Parents have the most information and best motivation to make decisions for their own children,” he insisted, noting that even the best classroom in an absolute sense might not be the most appropriate for each specific student seated in it.

Yes, the old arguments have so many applications, as Floyd herself comes close to acknowledging:

Just as the terms of debate evolved over time, so too have the specifics of the choice legislation considered.

Indeed. Private school wealthfare began as a classic voucher, but South Carolinians saw it for what it was and disapproved. So wealthfare was adapted -- former Governor Mark Sanford tried unsuccessfully to brand it "education passports," and "opportunity scholarships." But we unsophisticated South Carolinians caught onto those subterfuges, too, and disapproved.

The proponents of wealthfare turned the subsidies into tax credits. Sure enough, it was former Rep. Lewis Vaughn who declared in 2004, "It's a tax credit plan without the entanglement of the voucher system." But that smelled enough like trickery that we disapproved of that, too.

In fact, we unsophisticated South Carolinians, suffering in our "lack of understanding" of the "rhetorical terms of the debate," disapproved of every private-school wealthfare subsidy that has been offered, as public polling has consistently shown. It wasn't until several millions of dollars in out-of-state money rained down upon our legislative majority that wealthfare gained support -- and then, the support came from within the legislature, not from across the broad land.

But Floyd tries so hard to get the rest of us to swallow it, as if wealthfare helps us, too.

School Choice is NOT a dichotomy of public “or” private education. It should be an option for all families in South Carolina who have decided –for one reason or another– that their local traditional public school is not the best fit for their child.

My family had a choice, and so too should every family in South Carolina.

One nice thing about the internet age is that interested citizens can respond online to what they read in opinion-editorials. It's true at the Mount Pleasant Patch, too, where Floyd's column is published and where readers could offer their responses, like this one from Jonathan Edwards:

State budget officials there calculate the tax credits save $1.49 for each dollar in revenues “lost” through credits." Is Florida providing a tax credit (refund) to any low-income student who enrolls in a private school? If so, that is not what we're doing here. A poor person will not get a refund for sending their child to private school. They could get a deduction from their taxable income. But if you're already in the lowest income bracket that doesn't really mean anything. It does mean something for people in the higher income brackets who are looking for as many itemized deductions as possible, to minimize what they owe in income taxes every year.

I am happy that your family has a choice about your sons' schooling. However, your family probably has a lot of options that others don't have. Sentiments of personal gratitude and reflection do nothing to fund public education, or give poor people the "option" to longer be poor.

Excellent points, and good demonstration of knowledge of the rhetorical terms of the debate, too. Clearly, Edwards is not one of South Carolina's unwashed ignorant, who suffer with a "lack of understanding."

And reader John H offered this insight:

Did I miss something in H. 4894? I read it only as an amendment to the 1976 tax code to give tax credits to families who send their children to private school, home school, or a school in a different district. It also grants tax credits to those “taxpayers” who contribute to qualified scholarship funding organizations.

I could not find where the bill sets up an SFO or vouchers to help underprivileged or special needs children. Not unless the ambiguous language in Section 2 (A), 2 is the hitch, suggesting that the State will fund the SFO.

I may have overlooked something, but H. 4894 does little to improve education in SC. Show me the section I missed.

I'm beginning to understand now why Floyd published her column in Mount Pleasant, as far away as possible from home in Spartanburg...

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