Many of South Carolina’s rural and poor schools are failing miserably at their mission: educating our children. Despite increasing funding exponentially over the last 30 years and trying every fad that can be dreamed up at education colleges, our education system overall does a poor job of keeping kids in school and a poor job at educating the ones who stay.
Implementing school choice programs, especially at failing schools, has been a goal of conservatives for several years. In 2005, moderate/liberal Republicans in South Carolina allied with the Democrats to defeat a Governor Sanford-supported comprehensive school choice bill by one vote. Since then, school choice supporters have engaged the status-quo Republicans in bloody primary fights in each cycle. Winning primary fights (as well as open seat campaigns) has put enough school choice supporters into office to give school choice a real chance of passage this year.
In a game changing move, Senator Robert Ford, a black Democrat and civil rights activist, came out in support of the most recent version of school choice. It’s difficult to underestimate the impact that his support could have on this debate–by breaking the perception that school choice is the goal of wealthy white parents who just want taxpayer-subsidized private school tuition.
The current bill is similar to a program operating in Arizona for several years, which allows corporations and individuals to make tax-deductible contributions to fund scholarships to needy students in failing schools.
School choice may not solve all of America’s education woes. But these programs have largely met success where they have been tried–and the status quo clearly is not working.