By “The Voice” || A powerful letter to the editor was published in Sunday’s Spartanburg Herald Journal.
It asked the question: Why did six Republicans lawmakers from Spartanburg County vote against school choice?
After all, school choice has long been a cornerstone of the state’s Republican Party platform, and popular with Republican voters and politicians across the country. It’s popular with Republican leaders like U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
Karen Martin, a Tea Party activist from Woodruff, S.C. explains:
Here in our county we have “The Spartanburg Six” — Rita Allison, Doug Brannon, Derham Cole, Mike Forrester, Steve Parker and Eddie Tallon, who joined with 44 Obama Democrats in shutting down the S.C. school choice bill Wednesday. These six joined the party of Obama in denying parents the ability to use their own tax-exempt dollars to decide which school to send their children to. These six voted with the Democrats in the S.C. House to allow the status quo of South Carolina ranking at the bottom of the nation’s schools to continue, professing with their vote that they believe the government can make better decisions about your children than you can.
Wonder how this could have happened? Why would “Republicans” from a conservative county vote against a proposal that gives parents more freedom and is proven to save money while raising student achievement?
There are several theories floating around Spartanburg and Columbia.
In South Carolina politics cash follows the candidates, but money doesn’t follow the students.
Doug Brannon took campaign contributions from the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA), a political front group for the National Education Association (NEA) in 2010. Rita Allison accepted money from the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA), a political lobbying organization that serves non-teaching public school bureaucrats in 2010. Both the SCEA and SCASA are political groups that draw money away from public schools and use it to attack education reforms.
Even when taxpayer funded and taxpayer subsidized “education groups” don’t cut checks directly to lawmakers, they do lobby them aggressively. Working with the managers of local school districts, they mobilize public school employees through a range of astro-turfing grass roots efforts, to pressure lawmakers to carry their narrow legislative agenda. These efforts are tied in with drives to register and influence district staff to vote in primary and general elections. The school districts in Spartanburg County have a long track record of this type of patronage-driven machine politics.
3. Upstate Exceptionalism
While school choice offers something for students all across South Carolina, many lawmakers in Spartanburg believe their county has exceptional public schools. According to this narrative, any reform that might help narrow their lead, or improve other counties’ schools, is a threat. The data do not support this perception of academic and financial exceptionalism, but facts don’t always matter in Columbia’s smoke filled rooms.
4. Pure Political Intransigence
Often the simplest explanation is the most accurate. In this case school choice is a reform that is well-proven in other states to save money and raise student achievement. It’s popular with parents and activists throughout Spartanburg and across South Carolina. The intransigent theory holds that the Spartanburg Six simply don’t care what their constituents want; they are not willing to compromise.
That explanation is supported by emails sent from these lawmakers to frustrated voters, trying to defend their vote against the bill. Several of the Spartanburg Six used the same template to cut-and-paste their emails.
The meat of their cut-and-paste email, was this:
I did not support H.3407 because of its fiscal impact to the State’s budget. If passed, H.3407 would have reduced General Fund revenues in 2011-2012 by almost $65 million.
But that’s only half true. The same report, on the same page, explained that the state would actually save a net of $2 million in 2011-2012, because the $64 million reduction in revenues would be offset by a $66 million in savings to the state.
The Spartanburg Six are not stupid. They are self-interested and effective in their efforts to stay in power.
They know that school choice would be good for students and taxpayers- but they fear it might not be good for the financial and organizational interests of the public school management in Spartanburg County.
They depend on that system for their power, which is why they did not vote on the side of parents and students. These lawmakers have become subservient to the machinery of a public education they are elected to oversee, and have become so at great cost to the instructional goals that machinery was originally created to serve.
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