South Carolina governor Henry McMaster is routing $32.5 million out of a $2.7 billion federal coronavirus “stimulus” package toward tuition grants for needy students at private K-12 schools in the Palmetto State – a woefully inadequate short-term “fix” for a long-term problem, in our view.
According to McMaster’s plan – which was first reported by Maayan Schechter of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper – tuition grants totaling $6,500 would be awarded to up to 5,000 low-income recipients.
Do we support this proposal? Yes.
Expanded school choice is an essential component in the establishment of a true marketplace for education in our state.
Unfortunately, this appropriation is unlikely to materially reorient South Carolina’s painful paradigm of chronic failure. The grants in question provide only modest tuition assistance to a very small number of students … and the assistance they do provide is temporary at that.
Also, while we certainly have no issue when it comes to targeting relief to low-income students … don’t parents of middle-income students also need assistance? Particularly during these uncertain economic times?
McMaster made his announcement at Hampton Park Christian School in Greenville, S.C. Flanked by his lieutenant governor, Pamela Evette, the governor remarked that education is “the most important thing we do in South Carolina.”
Unfortunately, South Carolina does not “do” education very well … at all. This is in no small part because politicians like him are more concerned with paying lip service to reform than actually fixing a badly broken system.
Academic outcomes have only gotten worse (and more expensive) since McMaster took office – although most of the onus for that lies with the “conservative” GOP-controlled S.C. General Assembly.
However, McMaster has been a consistent “failure enabler.”
Despite steady increases in taxpayer funding – earmarked by “Republican” lawmakers and approved by the governor – academic achievement in the Palmetto State continues to lag well behind the rest of the nation.
Dead last nationally, in some cases …
Meanwhile, the small slivers of parental choice contemplated by GOP leaders continue to be wholly inadequate to the objective of improving academic achievement in the Palmetto State.
Just like this appropriation will end up being inadequate …
Consider the numbers: There are currently 783,000 students in South Carolina’s government run education system – of which 61.7 percent (roughly 483,000) are defined as “students in poverty,” according to the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE).
This appropriation would impact just 1.03 percent of that impoverished population – and 0.63 percent of the total student population.
In other words, this appropriation is nothing but posturing. Each year, the same charade takes place: Politicians proclaim their support for school choice, but then reject modest choice expansions as they pump billions of dollars into a failed “one size fits none” government-run model.
At last count, funding for government-run schools in the Palmetto State stood at a record $14,227 per pupil per year ($11.2 billion total) – not counting thousands more in local borrowing. Meanwhile, at last count local government run schools were hoarding an estimated $1.53 billion in unrestricted cash reserves – a number that soared by nearly $200 million from the previous fiscal year.
McMaster has been a hero to the far left on the education issue – embracing all manner of funding increases during his tenure in office. Earlier this year, he announced his intention to spend $53 million (at least) on expanding the state’s four-year-old kindergarten (4K) program in the hopes of making it a full-day program.
“My full-day 4K plan will unleash the free market on education, and unleash the talents and abilities of the young people who are the future of our state,” McMaster said.
Again, South Carolina will never unlock the advantages of competition in the academic marketplace until it creates an academic marketplace.
Which is not what is happening here …
The irony? McMaster will likely be assailed by the left for spending “public dollars on private schools.”
If only South Carolina were doing that … or, in lieu of that, allowing parents to devote more of what they pay in taxes to seek out better options for their children.
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