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We ran into S.C. Senator John Courson at a press conference earlier this week – attempting to bestow his “I’m a Reagan conservative” imprimatur onto former Utah Gov. (and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman).

We’ve always liked Courson. He’s a nice guy – and a former Marine. He’s also one of the few politicians in Columbia who kn0ws how to take to criticism – a lesson that politicians like Sarah Palin would be wise to emulate.

Still … none of those things make him a “Reagan conservative.” In fact, Courson is one of the most hopelessly liberal “Republicans” in Columbia – as evidenced by his ongoing opposition to common sense fiscal reforms as well as his slavish devotion to our state’s failed “one size fits all” system of public education.

Not only did Courson receive a “D-” on the S.C. Club for Growth’s most recent fiscal report card, but as chairman of the S.C. Senate’s education committee he has successfully blocked long-overdue parental choice reform in that chamber. Earlier this month, Courson took to the editorial page of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper – a.k.a. La Socialista – to continue carrying the water of the career educrats who are running our state’s competitive position into the ground.

While South Carolina’s worst-in-the-nation public school system serves as an anchor to economic development, Courson would have you believe that public schools in the Palmetto state are making “remarkable progress.”


Here are a few assertions from Courson’s pro-establishment opus, along with a much-needed reality check …

Courson: PASS test scores improved across the board for all demographics, including higher numbers of students scoring on the highest level for the test.
Reality: Everyone knew scores would go up, and that it had nothing to do with schools improving. Jack Buckley, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics called out South Carolina for implementing lower proficiency standards, when the national trend is toward strengthening them. “ From what we know talking to South Carolina [officials], they fully intended to set the bar lower. For whatever reason, they felt they had set the bar too high.”

The Northwest Evaluation Association said this of the PASS test, “Whereas the older PACT standards were among the highest in the nation, the newly proposed PASS standards would rank among the bottom quartile in a recent cross-state comparison of proficiency standards within 27 states. Use of the lower standards would result in dramatic increases in the percentages of students meeting standards in South Carolina schools, even with no actual improvement in student performance.”

Even with a lower standard of proficiency, a large achievement gap still exists between African-American students and their white classmates.

For example, below are percentages of 8th graders who did not meet the state’s new, lowered standards for proficiency:

Writing – African American: 41.9% not met, White: 18.8% not met
English Language Arts – African American: 52.8% not met, White: 25.5% not met
Mathematics – African American: 53.2% not met, White: 26% not met
Science – African American: 50% not met, White: 20.5% not met
Social Studies – African American: 44.6% not met, White: 22.6% not met

Courson: “We have also improved our on-time, high school graduation rate, once among the nations’ worst.”
Reality: We still are. South Carolina was ranked 48th by Education Week for on-time graduation rate. The national average for on-time graduation rate for the class of 2008 is 71.7%, while the rate for South Carolina is 58.6%. Since 1998, South Carolina has remained an average of 16.5 percentage points behind the national average.

Courson: We are among a tiny minority of states to see improved ACT college entrance exam scores despite dramatically increasing the number of students taking the test.
Reality: South Carolina test takers remain significantly behind the national average on total composite score, and way behind when it comes to Reading and English. South Carolina has lower average scores than either North Carolina or Georgia, massive disparities between in-state districts, and African-American/White achievements gaps that are horrifying.

Courson: “Education Week ranks us first in improving teacher quality, and seventh for the quality of our academic standards and accountability systems, and 15 in school quality and performance.”
Reality: The same Education Week “Quality Counts” report that gives South Carolina an “A” for “Standards,” gives South Carolina a “D-“ for K-12 Achievement. Courson just picked the grades that looked good, not the grade that actually reflects how schools perform. He could have added, “ South Carolina is ranked 45th in K-12 Achievement” – including D.C. schools.

Clearly, South Carolina’s public school system is not making “remarkable progress,” although it’s not surprising that the education establishment is trotting out Courson in an effort to fool you into thinking that it is.

After all, your investment in this failed system continues to grow … even as our state’s children fall further behind their peers in other states.

According to state budget writers, South Carolina’s public schools will be funded at an average of $11,754 per child in the current fiscal year – a record-high amount. This money comes from taxes assessed by local, state and federal governments. Obviously, the $11,754 figure excludes revenues from bonds, investments, and transfers between funds and government agencies (which adds another $1,500 to the total).

In 2010, the state spent $11,140 per child – also a record-high amount – yet our graduation rate showed another decline. That mirrors retreating SAT scores and stagnating ACT scores, all of which hurts our state’s ability to compete for jobs and investment. Also, a recent report found that more than one-third of the nation’s 100 worst public schools are located in South Carolina.

The Republican platform, incidentally, calls for a broad-based universal parental choice plan to help turn things around.

“We embrace the healthy competition that will result from a comprehensive school choice plan that includes the private sector, and believe such a system should be instituted from kindergarten through 12th grade,” the GOP platform notes. “In addition to improving public school performance, a system of school choice that includes tax credits, scholarship granting organizations and vouchers would offer more compassionate and better opportunities for all children in South Carolina.”

(To read our exhaustive recap of South Carolina’s groundbreaking choice legislation, click here).

Sadly, Courson is one of many “Republicans” who would rather shill for the status quo …

Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina