What Do You Think?
Put Parents In Charge Act in South Carolina Demands Accountability For School Choice
No School Choice Without Accountability
State should attach strings to parental subsidies
EDITORIAL, MyrtleBeach.com, Dec. 26, 2004
We're all aware that two people looking at the same facts can reach drastically different conclusions about what they mean. But when the facts have to do with the performance of the S.C. public schools and the two people reaching disparate conclusions about them are S.C. representatives, you have to wonder whether one has a personal agenda blinds him to the facts' true meaning.
Readers of The Sun News have had access to the two representatives' thinking during the past six days. On today's Op-Ed Page, S.C. Rep. John Graham Altman, R-Charleston, argues that the public schools' "dismal achievement levels" justify passage of Gov. Mark Sanford's Put Parents in Charge Act. That bill, to be debated in the 2005 General Assembly, would accord private-school-tuition state and local tax credits to S.C. parents unhappy with the public schools.
On Tuesday's editorial page, in "Thanks to those who improve S.C. education," S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, concluded that the General Assembly's investment in public schools has paid off big time. Harrell, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, cited the 2004 state school report card results, a measure of school improvement, as proof that legislative "investments in [school] accountability are yielding the success our state deserves." He adds: "Despite increasing rigor in the rating scale, [S.C.] schools performed at a higher level than ever before."
Readers can decide for themselves which legislator has the right take on school quality. But because Harrell's conclusions are grounded in carefully collected and honestly compiled data about each S.C. student's progress in math, reading, writing, science and social studies, we're inclined to conclude that it's Altman who is off base.
That gentleman's conclusions about S.C. public school quality stem from an unintegrated pastiche of edu-factoids - last in the nation on SATs, last in high school graduation, only one in four eighth-graders proficient in reading and writing. He would have us believe that S.C. children are lucky if they learn anything of value in a public school, when, in fact, the report cards confirm that the typical S.C. schoolchild learns quite a bit.
Why would Altman, an intelligent man and former local school board member, do this? We can only speculate, but by implying (falsely) that the report-card system isn't working, he appears to be trying to steer readers past the chief political obstacle to passage of the Put Parents in Charge bill. Its lacks meaningful accountability measures. The bill's supporters believe parental satisfaction should be the only "accountability" measure required of private schools that collect state subsidies.
Critics of the bill, us included, argue that tax-credit-supported private schools should take part in the report-card system. After all, supporters depict Put Parents in Charge as a public school improvement strategy grounded in the power of competition. If that's so, why not use the report-card system that so dramatically has moved the public-school performance needle to assess the competence of state-subsidized private schools?
The report-card system, of which Harrell was an author, came into being to show - not tell - S.C. taxpayers that they were getting value for their investment in public schools. All of us would shoulder the cost of Put Parents in Charge, by assuming the tax burden lifted off the shoulders of disaffected parents. Only by requiring private schools that accept tax-credit dollars to join the report-card system can legislators ensure that Put Parents in Charge is as educationally useful as Altman insists it would be.