Make Back to School Work for ALL Children
by Jane Dyer, Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 09:27:21 AM EDT
Today more than ever, we must focus on educating all South Carolina children. Our economic future depends on having a well-educated work force.
Providing a quality education requires shared responsibilities … and the shared goal of educating ALL our children.
Responsibility lies with families, teachers and schools, and elected officials who set policies and funding. Each plays a role.
Clearly, it starts with the family: parents’ willingness to support their children’s education, preparing them physically and emotionally. Parents are key to a child’s learning success. Today, families are struggling to make it day to day, and the extra costs of buying new clothes, school supplies, and school fees worsen the strain we feel in this challenging economy.
School administrators and teachers face a disheartening situation: Teachers must strive to deliver a quality education whether they have 15 or 35 students. Teachers are constantly challenged to do more with less.
Funding our education system is in crisis. Currently, because of a terrible decision in Columbia, we are running on empty.
South Carolina legislators took away a large part of consistent funding for education through property taxes on homeowners. They replaced that share of the property tax–about 30% of the total statewide–with higher sales taxes. Sales taxes are much less dependable than property taxes, so the General Assembly had to dig into the General Fund to pay for property tax relief, leaving less money for all state services, including public education. Funding per student from the Education Finance Act is now at 1995 levels.
The predicament left South Carolina education with no room to maneuver. Cutting teachers and staff is more than just cutting jobs today – it is cutting the jobs of tomorrow, too.
However, some people in our state don’t want to educate all our children; they want to destroy public education.
Since Mark Sanford became governor in 2002, out-of-state interests have pushed private school choice in South Carolina. They have poured untold dollars into the pockets of politicians who support their anti-public education agenda.
School choice is promoted as a way to level the playing field for poor working families. But in 2009, members of the South Carolina legislature proposed a private school choice bill co-sponsored by SC House Rep. Jeff Duncan that would create tax breaks for families who already have their children in private school. The bill did not pass because more level-headed legislators saw the folly of the policy.
But what if it had? There are roughly 46,000 children in private schools in South Carolina. If the state awarded a tax credit of, say, $2,000 for each of these children, it could cost the state $90 million annually.
No politician backing such a plan, including Rep. Duncan, my opponent in the 3rd Congressional District race, can be a called a fiscally responsible conservative.
Moreover, one must presume that this $90 million would be taken away from the schools that serve 94 percent of our state’s children, including those who would be too poor to qualify for a tax break under Duncan’s plan.
By pushing the idea of tax breaks for private school students, these politicians seek to reward the rich, subsidizing the education of the approximately 6 percent of South Carolina students who are in private schools, most of which charge tuitions out of reach for all but the wealthy.
Why should we take money away from creating a high quality education for ALL our children to help those who already have the means to send their kids to private schools?
We are experiencing tough times. However, we must not trade the future of our children just to reward the elite special interests. Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, teaching us the importance of hard work, knowledge and how to get along with each other.
Education fundamentally is a local responsibility, but we need people in Congress willing to work hard to make sure that our educators have the resources to enable our students to succeed from K5 to universities, community colleges or technical schools – wherever their talents and dreams take them.
We do NOT need career politicians who pick up and promote wacky ideas-of-the-moment from outside ideologues and backers.
We need thoughtful representatives who will listen to state and local leaders and ensure that common-sense policies are in place.
At the state level and the federal level, we must support our students, our teachers, and our families to educate all our children well so they will be prepared for the demanding jobs to come.
Shared goals and responsibilities are the only way our state can provide a quality education for all its students.