EDITOR'S NOTE: As the Nov. 2 governor's election approaches, reporter Robert Behre is talking with Republican Nikki Haley and Democrat Vincent Sheheen on the biggest issues facing the state. The second installment in the series focuses on education.
Question: Even with scholarships, the cost of higher education is more expensive now than it was before the lottery was enacted, partly because of cuts to higher education. How important is this problem and what would you like to do to make college more affordable?
Haley: "I want to strengthen our technical schools because they are an amazing resource that has been untapped, and then I want to give flexibility to the higher education institutions so that more of the money goes into the classroom and not into administration -- and hold those universities accountable. We need to ask them what their graduation rates are, what the dollars are going to the classroom for, whether they are helping small businesses in South Carolina and what their role in economic development is."
Sheheen: "It's very important. I have spoken about this all across the state: the escalating cost of college and the 10-year disinvestment in higher education by the state of South Carolina, which has hurt our economic development and made it more costly for our students. I think the key to reversing that trend is as we grow out of the budget crisis, we commit a higher proportion of our budget to higher education."
Q: Do you support vouchers to pay the entire cost of a private education if parents decide to opt out of public schools? Given the recent budget cuts, do you think there is any way for public schools to "compete" for students?
Haley: "My priority when it comes to K-12 education is to reform the education funding formula so that more money gets down to the school districts that need them. If a school-choice bill came to my desk, I would sign it, but I think the priority needs to be reforming the education funding formula so we can start looking at students and fund them based on the fact they deserve a good quality education."
Sheheen: "I think it would be fiscally irresponsible to have a voucher program in South Carolina when we are currently laying teachers off and growing class sizes. A voucher program, if fully implemented, would take almost half a billion dollars out of public schools, even with no students transferring to private schools. I think it's radical ... and I wouldn't support it."
Q: Should the state invest more in 4-year-old kindergarten to satisfy the court order from about five years ago? If not, does the state face more court mandates?
Haley: "I think the state needs to stop focusing on revenue toward education and start looking at the distribution of dollars to education. I think once we start looking at the distribution of dollars to education, our goal should always be that the money is going toward teachers, students and technology in the classroom. ... I think looking at 4-year-old education is secondary to making sure we're doing that first."
Sheheen: "I think we should invest more in 4-year kindergarten over the long term. You won't see it happen next year because of the budget crisis. But long term, we should invest more, and it is a priority in my administration. ... I don't think we should do it because the court's ordering us to do it. I think we should do it because it's the right thing to do, economically and morally."
Read the Q&A with the candidates on jobs and the economy