Here’s a nice change: GOP candidates arguing over which of them is the better friend to public schools

Side A of Frazier ad.

Side B of Frazier ad.

Here’s something you don’t see every day any more: Republican candidates vying to be seen as friends to public schools, and attacking other GOP candidates for supporting vouchers and such.

It’s certainly not unheard-of. GOP Reps. Bill Cotty and Ken Clark were great advocates for and defenders of public education. But you’ll notice that neither of them is in the House any more. Ken lost to a candidate funded by voucher advocates (although there were also some local issues that played into it), and Bill Cotty apparently just got tired of being targeted by those people every two years and having to answer their lies about him. There are Republicans who support public schools in the Legislature yet, but few who are willing to stand up as boldly, against such well-funded opposition, as Cotty and Clark.

And you’ll note that the GOP candidate you hear the most from in Cotty’s old district is his old pro-choice opponent Sheri Few — the one who goes on and on about how Anton Gunn is such a socialist.

Nowadays, your most prominent Republicans climb all over each other in competition to see who can come across as the biggest partisan ideologue, the biggest enemy of government and all its works, the biggest, most extreme hater of Barack Obama. Doubt me? Check out the Republicans seeking to become our governor.

But to my great delight, in my very own House district, we have a debate that is at least semi-reminiscent of Cotty and Clark. We’ve not gone in much for ideological extremism in District 69. Our current representative is the sensible, relative moderate Ted Pitts. And the smart candidates aim for that sort of tone.

In the last few days, though, things have gotten a bit heated. First, Danny Frazier attacked Rick Quinn, accusing him of being a closet voucher supporter — in other words, of being what Sheri Few or Nikki Haley would shout from the mountaintops. It painted him as a foul hypocrite and enemy of our schools for having done such things as calling a Mark Sanford-favored bill “a good step,” and for having taken money from out-of-state voucher promoters.

Mere days after I got that mailer, Rick fired back, making it clear that “I would NEVER support any scheme that would damage funding for our public schools.” He went on to say he would fight for better school funding, and to point out that not only is he a product of Lexington County public schools himself, but is sending his kids through the same system.

Some of you will recall that I toyed with the idea of running for Ted Pitts’ seat myself, on the UnParty ticket. And if the rules allow (I haven’t thoroughly researched it), I might still consider such a run if I don’t like the choices we have coming out of this primary. (There are three other Republicans running — Ernie Peagler, T.R. Parrish and Gary Taylor — and a lone Democrat, Jan Steensen Crangle.)

But for now, I’m enjoying the kind of debate I’m seeing between two of the candidates to represent me in the House.

Disclaimer: One of these guys is an advertiser on this blog. But you knew that. I mean, the ad is right over there…

Quinn mailer, side A.

Quinn mailer, side B.

11 thoughts on “Here’s a nice change: GOP candidates arguing over which of them is the better friend to public schools

  1. Doug Ross

    If Howard Rich would just stop supporting candidates who support vouchers, the South Carolina educational system would be world class. It’s all those vouchers that the government hands out that has caused the dropout rate in South Carolina to be so high. Imagine a public school system that wasn’t burdened by vouchers pulling away money that could better be spent on football stadiums, electronic blackboards, English As A Second Language education…

    Wait, you mean there haven’t been any vouchers EVER in South Carolina? for even the poorest kids? You mean we’ve never even tried them on a very limited basis for low income students? Really? Then what’s the problem? I thought for sure its all those vouchers that are the reason for the poor performance.

  2. Brad

    Doug, you miss the point so widely that I have to keep telling myself you don’t do it on purpose, that our minds just work differently.

    First, “voucher” isn’t a completely satisfactory word; I just finally, after years of resistance, gave in to that as a catch-all for a category. Vouchers aren’t nearly as bad as tuition tax credits — which can ONLY go to people with high-enough incomes to get that much out of a credit — but I mean to include them in the category.

    But I digress.

    The HARM that these kinds of proposals have done to SC schools is that they have completely overwhelmed all political debate about schools. The people advocating them — the ones donating and spending the money in that cause — make no secret about their overall hostility to public schools qua public schools. They detest the whole enterprise, and no wonder, since their sponsors are really about lowering or eliminating taxes, and schools are the thing that states spend the most tax money on.

    Since the argument is whether to PAY people to abandon public schools, what we have here is a debate over whether public schools are something we want to support in our society. Quite naturally, the sane people who understand that without public schools the goal of universal education is completely impossible. So they fight back hard.

    And the advocates of private school “choice” (as if we don’t already have such choice; this argument is about whether we all will subsidize that choice for those who make it) fight back just as hard, because the money to finance that fight never stops rolling in. And won’t, as long as someone like Mark Sanford is governor.

    Everybody is so totally occupied fighting over that, it takes up so much oxygen, that we never get around even to having a serious debate about anything that would improve public schools: Merit pay for performance, making it easier to hire and retain good teachers and get rid of bad ones, eliminating the insanity of having 95 school districts, the unwieldy (and often inequitable) way that we fund schools, and so forth.

    That’s what I call harm.

    Another kind of harm they cause is targeting good state representatives who have a lot to offer but just happen to disagree with the Howard Rich’s of this world. So a Ken Clark gets taken out. And a Bill Cotty gets tired of being attacked and lied about every two years. And the remaining Republicans — this doesn’t happen so much on the Democratic side — are cowed into not fighting those interests, or actively joining them.

    And the quality of representation declines. I know that doesn’t matter to you, Doug, because of the low esteem in which you hold all politicians. But it does matter.

  3. Doug Ross

    “Everybody is so totally occupied fighting over that, it takes up so much oxygen, that we never get around even to having a serious debate about anything that would improve public schools”

    Who is “everybody”? It’s not teachers, principals, or school district administrations — you know, the ones responsible for providing the education.

    When was the last debate in the State House over vouchers or whatever you want to call it? How many hours of the last legislative session were spent discussing, debating, and voting on them?

    It’s a smokescreen. The only solutions the non-voucher crowd can come up with is platitudes about “supporting public education” which is narrowly defined as K-12 government funded schools. The government should support the education of the public in whatever form that takes…

    The problems of the schools have nothing to do with money. They are systemic societal and cultural problems that no amount of money will solve.

    It’s funny to see you post about the power of ideas “having sex” but when it comes to looking at other ideas related to public education, you follow an “abstinence only” policy.

    I got back to what I have said repeatedly for years – what harm can come from trying something different for the kids in failing schools? It can’t get any worse for them than it already is. The fear the education establishment has it that someone might succeed where they have failed.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug– Social workers and skilled tutors and others can make a big difference, but we wouldn’t know that since we’ve never had much of that aroud here. I volunteered to mentor/tutor a kid at Hand Middle School, and I truly believe that just an hour a week made a huge difference to that kid—other kids I worked with not so much, but I’m just a lawyer, not particularly skilled at that and I only met with them an hour a week.

    DSS does some great stuff with parenting skills training, but their staff is seriously stretched. The more interventions, the better–you may not fix everyone, but like the sand dollar the kid threw back in– you can make a difference to that one.

    If we give up, then what do we do with those kids?

  5. Ralph Hightower

    I seriously doubt that there have been any private schools built in Allendale County. There are private schools in Dillon County; but that was probably of necessity since those schools are controlled by one guy who happens to be principal, coach, and a legislator. Dillon County is controlled from the General Assembly.

    Access to private schools in poor counties is a problem. Allendale students could possibly attend private schools in Barnwell County; but are private schools obligated to provide bus service?

    I believe that Frazier has done his research. Information from past legislative sessions is available on

    But I don’t believe that public money should subsidize private schools. That opens up a new can of worms; I think that private schools should then be accountable to the public.

  6. Ralph Hightower

    Who would’ve thunk it? GOP candidates promising to be the public education advocate?

    I want to know which candidates for the SC constitutional offices support school vouchers? Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of Education. Believe it or not, but one of the candidates, four years ago, supported school vouchers, either Treasurer or Comptroller General! What the heck can either of those two offices do towards legislation? So I also want to know which candidates for the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Secretary of Agriculture, Treasurer, Comptroller General and even the Adjutant General offices support school vouchers.

    I won’t vote for any candidate that supports school vouchers whether they can do something about in their office or if they can’t, such as Secretary of Agriculture.

    But then I’ve written off the GOP gubernatorial candidates since all are campainging against Washington DC and promising to reform Washington. If that’s your calling, run for House or Senate and don’t waste South Carolina’s time!

  7. Doug Ross


    I am not advocating “giving up” — I am advocating giving kids as many different options as possible to allow them to be successful.

    Everyone on the anti-voucher side can come up with all sorts of reasons to keep doing the same thing over and over. I’ve heard them all. “There won’t be any accountability”; “There’s no way any private entity would set up schools to take advantage of the vouchers”; “There’s no transportation”; “It’s taking money from public schools that are already underperforming”

    But, using your sand dollar analogy, if just one more kid made a break from the cycle of illiteracy and poverty because of vouchers, wouldn’t that be a good thing? My guess is that it may help thousands of students who just need some other option, some other small break to get out of a failing environment.

    All I am advocating is for it to be tested in one failing district and with income limits for those who participate. Give 100 kids a voucher equal to half the total per pupil spending in the district. Then see what happens? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

  8. Brad

    The worst that could happen has already happened — completely ignoring the thousands of kids who will never get that voucher.

    What you miss, Doug, what you ignore, is that I tried your approach. I tried thinking of the tax-credit idea in just those terms. In 2002, when Sanford spoke of it as an experiment, and didn’t emphasize it, and gave lip service to doing things to actually improve public schools (he has been on record from the beginning as being for district consolidation and other things that would make a difference; he’s just never lifted a finger to try to make them happen). Fine, we thought. Another experiment. Like charter schools, which we’d always supported.

    But what we gradually learned over the subsequent years was that that was Sanford’s ENTIRE plan for education. He didn’t want to do a damned thing to improve the schools that 99 percent of kids would depend on if his “experiment” were tried. No, it became clear that what he and his allies were about were denigrating and trashing public schools — public schools AS public schools, the entire idea — at every turn, as a tactic to achieve what they wanted. It would set his agenda back for public schools to get better, which is why he and SCRG and the rest of that crowd belittle any accomplishments or progress the schools ever achieve.

    Basically, it’s become an existential argument, an argument against the IDEA of public education, the idea that we as South Carolinians have any sort of shared interest in universal education, the pushing of an idea that we should all approach education as individual consumers — which of course means that the kids whose parents don’t give a damn, or who have no idea how to deal with the system or take advantage of “choices” (public or private) that might be available to them — are left behind in increasing hopelessness.

    I was about to type that “It’s all very well for you to pretend that it would do no harm to try this, and that those who oppose it simply don’t want to see another approach succeed,” but that would be unfair to you, because you actually believe it. It’s incredible to me, but you actually believe it. I see the rest of the picture. I’ve been in the crossfire of this fight for years, and there’s no question any more what it’s about. It’s about whether we’re going to support and improve the public schools that are most kids’ ONLY hope, or underwrite the process of every family with anything at all on the ball to complete the process that began 40 years ago with the first wave of White Flight, the abandonment of the public schools to those who have no hope.

    And anybody who cares about South Carolina has to fight that.

  9. Doug Ross

    Once again, you lay the blame at Sanford’s feet when he has nothing to do with it. Not one single thing.

    But you said that it was the constant debate about vouchers/tax credits that is hurting the schools. All I’m asking you is to tell me the last time the subject was brought to a vote and how much legislative time has been spent on it during the Jim Rex years? What I don’t understand is why you, as the champion of representative government, don’t even want those elected officials who ran on a platform of providing vouchers, to engage in a debate about the relative merits? Did Mark Sanford lie about his desire to see significant changes in the public education system when he ran? That’s the part I don’t get – when he stays on message with his core beliefs (the ones that got him elected), you want him to abandon those beliefs just because YOU don’t agree with them.

    The only people holding back public education are Harrell, Leatherman, and Rex. They have the most control over what is done. But you just can’t seem to bring yourself to do that when the whipping boy is available.

  10. Brad

    Doug, you and I are going to have to sit down again and have a LONG talk (along the lines of the long talk Jed Clampett kept threatening to have with Jethro).

    Mark Sanford has EVERYTHING to do with it. That money that supports SCRG flows into this state BECAUSE we have a governor devoted to that cause. It makes the Howard Riches of the world see an opportunity here. He is the focal point, the leadership figure, for the entire movement in this state. Organizations such as ReformSC and SC Club for Growth exist to push the Sanford agenda.

    As for the way the issue has overwhelmed debate over schools, where have you been? It has loomed over every legislative GOP nomination process since Sanford was elected. Every debate over anything having to do with education tends to break down along voucher/anti-voucher lines.

    I realize I’m much more exposed to it than you are because I deal with it more directly, but since the days when video poker held such sway in the State House, NO issue has so dominated or distorted legislative politics as much as this one has.

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