Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pro-voucher columns sound strikingly similar

As I read this column by Rep. Christopher Murphy in the Summerville Journal Scene, I thought it sounded an awful lot like the one that Karen Floyd published in the Mount Pleasant Patch a few days ago. Both praise the House for passing its voucher bill last week.

O, I know there's no voucher-on-paper in the bill adopted by the House last week; it's just a shell game that uses public dollars to give tax breaks to people who send their children to private schools. But as former Rep. Lewis Vaughn hinted back in 2004, it's still just a voucher scheme that uses tax breaks to accomplish the goal.

The similarities between Murphy's and Floyd's columns are spooky, as if they are revising a common document to add their own local place names and flavor.

For example, both declare they are products of public schools.

Floyd: "I am the product of public education: from Irmo Elementary School to a Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law."

Murphy: "As a product of Dorchester District 2 (Summerville High School ’86), I share in that pride."

Both praise their own local public schools.

Floyd: "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."

Murphy: "The district - among state’s highest achieving - is one of the reasons our county continues to attract new residents.
...
In other words, parents in Dorchester 2 already have some of the widest “school choices” in the state. And that’s a big part of why the public schools here are exceptional."

Both, however, pivot from praising the public schools in their own communities to citing the example of tax breaks for private school tuition in Florida.

Floyd: "Over 35,000 low-income students in Florida are now enrolled in the school of their parents’ choice through such a program this school year. State budget officials there calculate the tax credits save $1.49 for each dollar in revenues 'lost' through credits."

Murphy: "These state income tax credits pose no threat to state funding for public schools. That’s because public schools are funded with sales tax revenues, not income tax collections. More to the point these programs, which already support tens of thousands of low-income students in other states, keep money flowing to the public schools even if children transfer out, since most of state spending on K-12 education is not 'tied' to the child. Recent studies have determined that each dollar in school choice tax credits claimed saves taxpayers $1.49 in spending."

Is it coincidental that both Floyd and Murphy are intimately familiar with the fiscal impact statements of Florida's private-school tax break program, and that they cite precisely the same data in their opinion-editorials?

Strikingly, both took precisely the same notes of Rep. Rita Allison's remarks during last week's House debate on vouchers.

Floyd: "Representative Rita Allison’s passionate defense of the bill on Wednesday was particularly insightful. She explained how the school choice debate is not a zero-sum argument about choosing public 'or' private schools; it’s really about 'and.' To reduce inequality, to increase parental engagement and to raise student achievement, Allison insists every parent in the state deserves to have real choices for their own child’s education. That means public and charter and private and magnet and virtual and home school; whatever works for the specifics of that pupil’s learning needs."

Murphy: "The school choice debate is not a zero-sum argument about choosing public 'or' private schools; it’s really about 'and.' To reduce inequality, to increase parental engagement and to raise student achievement, every parent in the state deserves to have real choices for their child’s education. That means public and charter and private and magnet and virtual and homeschool and frankly, whatever works for the specifics of that pupil’s learning needs."

Wow -- even the sentence fragments are noted and punctuated identically, word-for-word.

That's some amazing note-taking. Either Floyd and Murphy shared their notes of Allison's remarks with one another, or Allison was speaking from the same document that Floyd and Murphy later revised to draft their columns.

I wonder if there are -- or will be -- other column clones floating around our state on this topic?

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