COLUMBIA -- Now there's something you don't see every day at a South Carolina protest: signs that are actually literate.

On Monday, folks gathered outside the state Department of Education building here to express their extreme disappointment in Superintendent Mick Zais for his refusal to go after $144 million in federal money to hire teachers.

You know, it's no accident the Dept. of Ed. sits right on Bull Street.

These people, about 50 of them (or "nearly 1,000" by tea party standards of counting), hoisted placards that said: "Teachers in Puerto Rico (heart) Mick Zais," "Haley is right and 49 governors are wrong?" and "South Carolina: Where Stupid Rules."

If you can read those, thank a teacher -- because somebody needs to appreciate them.

Last week, Zais said South Carolina isn't eligible for the money because it has cut education spending too much. But he wouldn't ask for the money anyway because he doesn't want the federal intrusion. Gov. Nikki Haley backed him up, saying that we don't need no stinking bailout.

She said this just before asking the feds to bail out the state Department of Transportation.

Who harms children?

These protestors weren't frothing at the mouth or asking where Zais was born, they simply have a policy disagreement.

In other words, they simply support schools -- unlike the people elected to run them.

"How can we afford these two people with the shape South Carolina education is in?" asked Gwendolyn Robinson, who drove up from Mount Pleasant. "Do you represent the tea party or do you represent the whole state?"

Uh, that would be the former.

And that would be the people who stood apart from this crowd, carrying the banner for Zais and Haley. Their signs said "Public schools harm children."

No, zealot politicians harm children when their goal is to run public education into the ground.

Can you spell rhetoric?

Now, the other side says that throwing money at schools doesn't improve them. Which is a convenient excuse.

Actually, this money would have reduced class sizes, which does in fact improve education. But these people don't live in the fact-based world -- they believe campaign rhetoric.

For instance, they say too much education money goes to administrators. If we'd just cut educrats, the old chestnut goes, they'd have enough money for schools. Why, Haley herself said before the election that there were hundreds of educrats there on Bull Street.

Of course, we missed the part where Zais, upon his election, laid off all those slackers and sent the money to schools. No, but he did add a campaign aide and former Sanford staffer to the payroll.

But don't question him, he's standing on his principles. At the expense of his principals.

Of course, most people would see this as the most cynical sort of political pandering. But you might need some education to be able to see that.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.