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South Carolina Senator Robert Ford is the national face of the “New Civil Rights Struggle,” a movement to free tens of thousands of poor, mostly minority students from failing schools across America – and to give expanded choice to parents everywhere.

That movement was given a huge boost last month when it was endorsed by the nation’s largest newspaper, which declared that “20 million low-income school kids need a chance to succeed,” and that “school choice is the most effective way to give it to them.”

Last weekend, Brandon Miniter at the Wall Street Journal zeroed in on Ford as the

From the WSJ:

Getting arrested doesn’t normally bolster a politician’s credibility. But when South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford told me recently that he saw the inside of a jail cell 73 times, he did so to make a point. As a youth, Mr. Ford cut his political teeth in tumultuous 1960s civil-rights protests.

Today this black Democrat says the new civil-rights struggle is about the quality of instruction in public schools, and that to receive a decent education African-Americans need school choice. He wants the president’s help. “We need choice like Obama has. He can send his kids to any school he wants.”

Mr. Ford was once like many Democrats on education — a reliable vote against reforms that would upend the system. But over the past three and a half years he’s studied how school choice works and he’s now advocating tax credits and scholarships that parents can spend on public or private schools.

He’s not alone. Three other prominent black Democrats in South Carolina have publicly challenged party orthodoxy. In 2006 State Rep. Harold Mitchell Jr. crossed party lines to endorse Republican Karen Floyd for state education superintendent. “We have to try something different,” he told me at the time. That same year, Curtis Brantley defeated a state representative in a primary fought over education reform. And last year, Ennis Bryant ran (unsuccessfully) against an anti-school-choice state representative in a primary.

Miniter’s story goes on to explore in some detail the Palmetto State’s unique political topography on the parental choice front, focusing on how Ford’s proposed legislation is building a broad, bipartisan coalition based on its provision for “universal choice.”

“In South Carolina, however, the tax credits on the table would go to middle-class and poor parents alike and would align the interests of the vast majority of voters with those of poor families,” Miniter writes. “If such tax credits take root, they will create a coalition between black Democrats and Republicans and be nearly impossible to trim back, let alone repeal.”

Of course, the biggest impetus in Ford’s struggle remains the ongoing, systemic failure of the state’s current education monopoly, which continues to fail students at a record clip while our “best and brightest” fall further behind the rest of the nation.

All of this while per pupil funding is at its highest level … ever.

Is that “accountability?” Because the last time we checked, accountability means “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.”

How can we say that we have “accountability” here in South Carolina when nothing ever changes? When we keep pouring more money into the same, funamentally-flawed system – and no one is held responsible for its worsening outcomes?

Not surprisingly, Ford has been viciously attacked by several of his colleagues, but he’s standing strong and says he’s confident his bill is going to pass in 2010.

Let’s hope so … South Carolina literally cannot afford another year of increasingly expensive generational neglect.