The School Choice Leadership Vacuum
TIME FOR SELF-STYLED “REAGAN REPUBLICANS” TO WALK THE WALK
Earlier this week S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis reiterated his support for expanded school choice in the Palmetto Sate. A Tea Party favorite, Loftis received the most votes of any candidate on the ballot in 2010 and along with U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint is viewed as one of the state’s most popular officeholders. His endorsement is another big step for H. 4894 – the parental choice bill that passed the S.C. House of Representatives earlier this year.
Among other things, Loftis points out in his latest piece how 15,000 very low-income students already attend private schools in South Carolina. So much for the bizarre claim that choice scholarships up to $5,000 won’t be enough to get low-income kids into non-public schools where tuition averages $4,400.
Speaking of DeMint, the popular Senator issued a statement on his blog this week calling for passage of the choice bill in Columbia.
In his statement DeMint “urge[d] our state Senate leaders to keep us moving forward on this important path by passing legislation that would allow South Carolina parents to access the options that have been such a vital part of invigorating public education in Florida and elsewhere.”
Then there’s S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais. Last week, Zais’ deputy superintendent testified before a Senate subcommittee - that Zais too supports the choice plan that passed out of the House and is under consideration by the Senate.
DeMint, Loftis and Zais now stand with all five Republican Congressmen – each of whom has called on state lawmakers to pass the bill in recent weeks. In fact, U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney, whose district overlaps with long time choice opponent Sen. Wes Hayes (RINO-York), did not mince words – calling out the “four or five” State Senators in the Republican party who have traditionally crossed the aisle and opposed school choice even though it represents a central plank in the GOP platform.
“You know who they are,” Mulvaney said.
These big names are pushing so hard for choice because they know it has worked in other states (saving money, raising test scores, reducing inequality, etc), and also because they know it’s widely popular with both primary and general election voters.A
According to several polls leaked by lawmakers’ staffers in recent days, support among likely voters for tax credit-funded scholarships for low-income children ranges from 55 to 65 percent, depending on the State Senate district. Support for the scholarship program for special needs students comes in between 65 and 75 percent.
Again, that’s among likely voters (i.e. the sort of people incumbent state lawmakers should be listening to).
The GOP grassroots want choice. Two key statewide officer holders are pushing for it. So is the state’s most popular U.S. Senator and five of its six Congressmen …
All of which begs the question, what in the hell is wrong with the self-described “Republicans” who constitute a majority in the State Senate? Seriously … what’s it going to take to get these RINOs to stop shilling for our state’s failed status quo?
“These guys aren’t leaders, they are followers,” one Senate aide told us when asked about the ongoing intransigence of fiscal liberals like John Courson (RINO-Richland), Wes Hayes (RINO-York) and Hugh Leatherman (RINO-Florence).
That’s true … but what would it take to get them to follow parental choice leaders like Loftis, DeMint, Zais and Mulvaney (and State Senators like Larry Grooms and Tom Davis)?
Apparently nothing …
“A resurrected Ronald Reagan could gallop into the [SC Senate] chamber on a school choice unicorn, pulling a cart of disabled black orphans actually begging for scholarships and these guys would probably stand there muttering about their support of the non-binding opt-in public school transfer farce,” the Senate aide told us.
That’s said …
Reagan, of course, was a big fan of school choice – sending legislation to Congress early in his first term to initiate a federal tuition tax credit and speaking in favor of choice among different types of schools throughout his administration.
“Choice in education is the wave of the future because it represents a return to some of our most basic American values,” Reagan noted just days before leaving office. “Choice in education is no mere abstraction. Like its economic cousin, free enterprise, and its political cousin, democracy, it affords hope and opportunity.”
And while the mere “Reagan-supported-it-so-do-I” argument may not hold water with all FITS readers, we do agree with the former president that school choice gives parents the means and motivation to get more involved in their sons’ and daughters’ education, which is a great thing.
And unlike thirty years ago when Reagan first proposed tax credits, we now have mounds of data available showing how they improve student achievement.
For John Courson – whose unceasing, sycophantic and self-serving references to Reagan grate on even his closest supporters – maybe it would help if the equine handler ferrying in that unicorn was on his “friends and family” state employment program.
That might be enough to spur a little leadership from this so-called “Reagan Republican.”