The South Carolina Senate will consider a “school choice” bill that has passed the House. According to The State newspaper, the legislation “would allow parents to take a $4,000 tax deduction per child for tuition paid, $2,000 for homeschool expenses and $1,000 per child who attends a public school outside the district where he or she lives. It would allow people to claim tax credits for donating to newly created nonprofits giving scholarships to poor and disabled students.”
While I understand the arguments for and support certain types of choice for schools, this bill is a bad idea, but for reasons beyond most opponents’ very valid concerns that it takes needed funds from public schools. I believe it contradicts the basic way government and public funds should interact.
I believe this bill severs the tie between public funds and those who pay taxes.
This bill, directly or indirectly, provides public funds to educational entities for which there is presently no oversight for the process or product.
There is also no oversight of constitutional guarantees and limitations. Further, governments fund education for the common good, with the idea that educated citizens/workers benefit all.
The oversight of these funds belongs to all voters, not just to the parents. Parents should have choices for and be engaged in their children’s education, but when public funds are involved, accountability belongs to all, not just the parents..
Charter schools, magnet schools, and open-enrollment public schools all should, and in South Carolina do, meet these requirements of accountability for public funds.
Tax credits or vouchers for private or home schooling or scholarship donations do not.
I somehow do not believe the supporters of this bill have any intention of allowing accountability measures for public schools to follow these funds.
This accountability includes curriculum, instruction, outcomes and students’ rights. Remember, these are public funds.
Present school and teacher accountability systems for public schools are based primarily on test scores, originating from and supported by non-educators such as corporations, philanthropists, consultants and those with political agendas.
While I might believe the systems flawed and even counterproductive and toxic, elected public officials are responsible for them.
South Carolina state Superintendent Mick Zais is proposing a system that would rate schools A through F to provide better information for parents. Certainly such systems would be used for any K through 12 educational entity supported by public funds.
When public tax dollars are spent, public laws and public accountability must follow. This bill subverts this link.
The choice to spend public funds in any way one chooses is a terrible choice and certainly not a right or characteristic of responsible government.
Peter Smyth Colony Drive Charleston
The author, a retired math teacher, educational administrator and the first principal of Charleston Charter School for Math and Science, is co-founder of Charleston Area Community Voice for Education.