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Home arrow Media Center arrow Public schools: choices that work
Public schools: choices that work

The State, Columbia SC
By ANTON GUNN - Guest Columnist
March 29, 2009

As an African-American, I am blessed to live in a nation that is turning a new page in the 21st century.

 

Racism is not gone. But as President Barack Obama showed us, color — so long a barrier to success for African-Americans — is less of a hindrance today than ever before. That’s why I have the blessing of proudly representing both black and white, rich and poor and my only concern is bringing us all together so we can make South Carolina a better state.

But I never forget why I have this opportunity. I recognize that I stand on the shoulders of the men and women who came before me with the courage to fight for equal rights and a stronger America. And I am grateful for their insistence on strong and equal public education, which has enabled me to pick up the torch and participate fully in this democracy.

It is for this reason that I was saddened when my friend Sen. Robert Ford, a hero of the civil rights movement and a long-time champion of public education, sponsored the latest version of “Put Parents in Charge,” the private school tax-credit legislation.

Sen. Ford says he is concerned about disadvantaged minority children in failing schools. His heart may be in the right place. His decision to support this tax-credit scheme is exactly wrong.

It is certainly true that the achievement gap between poor and rich, black and white is a persistent problem here and around the nation — worst of all in our poorest schools, because the overwhelming disadvantages of poverty are difficult to overcome.

After years of debate, however, most South Carolinians recognize the common-sense problems that make voucher and tax-credit schemes the worst possible idea for the most disadvantaged children.

We know that private school “choice” is a false promise in areas of the state where there are no private schools, for parents who can’t provide transportation and for families too poor to benefit from tax credits.

We realize that the tuition tax credit allowed under this legislation won’t begin to buy an education at many private schools — including the one our governor’s children attend — and that, whatever the price, good private schools might not be willing to educate children with the academic, social and behavioral problems that so frequently accompany life in poverty.

We know it’s neither smart nor responsible to send the public’s money to schools formed specifically to take advantage of this legislation, with no requirement for meaningful financial or academic accountability.

And we’ve long established that any voucher plan would steal material and human resources from public schools, leaving the neediest children in an educational environment even worse than they currently face.

As a newly elected member of the House of Representatives, my goal is to provide meaningful choices for all children in the only way we can — by strengthening our public schools.

We need to replicate outstanding choice programs like those in Richland 2, which offers a wealth of educational options including single-gender academies, Montessori schools and a wide variety of magnet programs. Republican Rep. Ted Pitts and I have sponsored legislation advocated by state Education Superintendent Jim Rex to require educational choices within all districts — legislation opposed in the past by the same groups that support private school choice.

To reduce the achievement gap, we need to restructure education funding so that all children, wherever they live, have decent facilities, good teachers and the opportunity for a good education.

We need to revolutionize our education system by eliminating our “minimally adequate” standard and making the commitment to prepare every child well for the challenges of the 21st century.

I am deeply disappointed that Sen. Ford has joined the out-of-state special interest groups (who have shown they will spare no costs) using shady tactics to promote an irresponsible agenda funded entirely by people whose goal is to promote their political ideology, without regard for our children’s future — and in the process divide our community in developing solutions.

It’s a disservice to the struggles of the people who gave us the chance to be where we are today — those who knew that equal rights meant nothing without equal education.

It’s just as much a disservice to those who will come after us — South Carolinians of every color whose future depends entirely on our willingness to eliminate distraction, roll up our sleeves and get to work on the job of improving our public schools.

Mr. Gunn represents Richland and Kershaw counties in the S.C. House.

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