Howie Rich complains about ‘hit piece’ on him in The State

A blog post at SC Schools Report brings my attention to a letter that Sen. Kevin Bryant received from his fan Howie Rich. Here it is:

Dear Kevin,

First of all congratulations on the “A+” ranking you received this month from the S.C. Club for Growth. I understand you’ve received the highest score in the SC Legislature eight years running – which is quite a feat. Given how many of our elected officials get away with paying lip service to freedom and free markets, it’s gratifying to see when a few of them actually walk the walk – as you have consistantly done.howard

I wanted to write because I’m sure you’ve seen the lates “hit piece” against me in the Columbia newspaper – which is (once again) ramping up its vendetta agains parental choice and those of us who support it. This liberal rag – which gives The New York Times a run for its left – leaning money – apparently believes that demonizing me (and the legal contributions I have made to candidates in South Carolina) passes for a legitimate argument against school choice.

Meanwhile the paper does everything within its power to prop up the grovernment-run school system in the Palmetto State – which as we know is falling further behind the rest of the nation (exacting larger and larger sums of money from the South Carolina taxpayers.)

Thankfully the ongoing proliferation of new (and social) media in South Carolina means we no longer have to coddle this status quo mouthpiece – and can take our case directly to the people. This is exactly what you are doing in your “Blog from the Back Bench,” and I commend you on those efforts.

Ideologically we both know how this debate will progress. Absent the infusion of market-based reforms South Carolina’s government-run monopoly will continue to fail generations of school children – while sticking taxpayers with an ever-escalating bill.

But what is the political future of this debate? On that front I want to make something perfectly clear: Every time I read one of these hit pieces, my commitment to the fundamental reforms we are advancing is redoubled. What we are witnessing in South Carolina right now are the last gasps of a dying status quo – entrenched politicians (and their legacy media supporters) whose only remaining excuse for the poor performance of their government -run system is that parental choice has become a “distraction.” Clearly their House of Cards is close to toppling.

2016 will not be a repeat of 2012 – in which incumbent-created protections denied challengers a chance to compete in an honest primary. Mark my words: Those currently running victory laps around the South Carolina State House after giving up more than a third of the vote to “petition candidates” will be held accountable for their votes in a true GOP primary three years from now. And from what I am told, there will be an even broader coalition of pro-taxpayer, pro-free market interests aligned against them.

It comes down to this: The Republican-controlled Senate will either pass school choice this year or it wont. If it does, South Carolina’s children, parents and taxpayers will be better for it. If it does not, then school choice advocates will focus every bit of energy they have on the 2016 primaries.

On this we have learned over the years is that choice – in addition to being effective everywhere it has been implemented – is a rising tide both politically and legislatively. When we started this fight we were nowhere in the S.C. General Assembly – now the S.C House has passed choice legislation and we were one rigged primary election away from getting it through the Senate.

One way or the other choice is coming. It is only a matter of resources, planning and patience – and I can ssure you we are blessed with an abundance of all three.

Thank you for your leadership on this issue. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Take care,

Howard Rich

Gosh, I had no idea Mr. Rich was even aware of The State’s existence, much less that he was so bugged by what it said about him. Oddly, the “hit piece” to which he refers is a fairly straightforward, news story that tells readers about his ongoing contributions to SC lawmakers. It’s also a pretty old story — I don’t know the date of his letter to Sen. Bryant.

By the way, I join “Howie” in complimenting Sen. Bryant on his blog. He was the first blogger in the Legislature, and still maintains it pretty religiously. It’s a good thing that we can keep tabs on what he’s doing and thinking.

37 thoughts on “Howie Rich complains about ‘hit piece’ on him in The State

  1. Doug Ross

    Mr. Rich is correct – the days of protecting the South Carolina public schools from real choice and real accountability are numbered. Voucher programs of all shapes and sizes are becoming more prevalent across the country. Columbus, Ohio, a city very similar to Columbia, SC, has been a model program growing the number of vouchers from 11,000 in 2011 to 30,000 in 2012 and 60,000 this year.

    Here’s how they do it and how South Carolina should as well: Give options to poor students in the worst schools. Why we can’t start with that is a question I have been asking for a decade.

    Ohio’s EdChoice program is intended to give students who attend the state’s worst performing public schools chances to attend private schools.

    If a student is assigned to a public school that has been designated in “Academic Watch” or “ Academic Emergency” for two of the last three years, then that student is eligible for an EdChoice scholarship. Students who attend a charter school but would otherwise be going to one of those failing schools can also apply for the scholarship.

    Students in grades K-8 are eligible for up to $4,250, and high school students can get up to $5,000, or the cost of tuition if that is lower.

    In distributing the vouchers, first preference is given to students who are returning to the voucher program, then families that meet federal poverty guidelines, then all other students in low-performing schools. In the past, vouchers have been distributed to that third group of students through a lottery. The Ohio Department of Education expects that with the expansion of the program, lotteries won’t be needed anymore.

  2. Doug Ross

    And here come the knee-jerk responses responses that some people automatically respond with in tru Pavlovian fashion whenever they see the word vouchers:

    “I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for rich people to send their kids to private schools” This program doesn’t.

    “You’re taking away dollars from the classroom”. No, they wouldn’t. They would continued to be funded based on their enrollment as they are now. Want more money? Provide a better learning experience.

    “There won’t be any standards”. Ha! What have twenty years of PACT/PASS testing done to raise the standards in public schools.

    “There aren’t any private schools in {insert backwoods rural community here}” And there never will be until there is funding to support entrepreneurs from attempting to provide new opportunities.

    “But what about Special Needs kids?” The Columbus program has vouchers specifically targeted to special needs and autism spectrum students.

    “We don’t care how they do it up North!” Obviously.

    1. Scout

      Do the private schools test the students with Ohio’s state standard based test? Do the private schools provide special education services through individualized education plans per IDEA to the special needs students?

      I am not absolutely opposed to any voucher program on principal but I have yet to see one proposed here (in SC) that fairly addresses the two above points. If the private schools do not have to demonstrate that they are able to have the child reach standard, then how are we to know if the private school is doing any better than the public school was able to do with that child. Anything else is not an apples to apples comparison.

      To be fair and to reach the truly needy, I’d think any program would have to target individual children, rather than “schools” – ie. any student who tests as not meeting standard would potentially be eligible. Rather than targeting “failing schools”, the target would be the students who are being failed by ANY school. This would prevent kids who are meeting standard even in a so called “failing school” from taking advantage of help that is not meant for them, just because their parents would rather not have them associate with some of the public school clientele, and would love to have a voucher to pay for it. No plan yet proposed to the SC legislature would have prevented the above situation.

      The issue is not so much that so called “failing schools” are failing all children but that some children are harder to educate due to a myriad of challenging circumstances unique to them. I am all for helping the harder to educate. It is what I spend my days doing. If I saw a plan that I thought would truly target this group in practice rather than only in name, I would listen.

      But to do that, you’d need to target the students who are not meeting standards, only, and you’d need to measure the results after they’ve attended the private school with the same test. If the private school is not helping the child any more than the public school was able to, then I don’t think the private school should continue to receive public money.

      If such a plan were proposed – I don’t see private schools lining up to go head to head with public schools to help these more challenging cases. But I’d welcome any that would try. I am skeptical that private schools could do a whole lot different with most of these students since their challenging circumstances will largely not have changed, but since private schools may have more or different resources and lower teacher/student ratios, I concede that anything is possible and I’m willing to be surprised on behalf of needy students.

      Meanwhile, those students whose challenging circumstance is lack of parental engagement will likely not be helped by any plan that requires their parent take the initiative to act on their behalf.

      And special needs students are such another can of worms. It’s just not going to happen for them. Private schools don’t want to deal with it.

      1. Doug Ross

        So how is it working in Columbus, OH? Please click on the link that I posted that explains their program. It has specific vouchers for Special Needs and Autistic students. The number of participants has grown 6 fold in three years. There has to be a reason why demand has increased.

        1. Scout

          I went to your link, Doug. And since you wouldn’t answer my questions posed above, I will:

          “Do the private schools test the students with Ohio’s state standard based test?”

          Yes, they do. No school choice bill yet proposed in SC has had this component. If any would, it would help a lot in getting educators to at least listen.

          The percentages of Edchoice scholarship recipients who score proficient on the Ohio state test according to the Ohio State Department of Ed website are not terribly impressive in my opinion.

          My next question was, “Do the private schools provide special education services through individualized education plans per IDEA to the special needs students?”

          No they don’t. The reason is by choosing to go to a private school, the parent gives up their right to FAPE (a free and appropriate public education) which it is the purpose of the IEP to ensure for a student with a disability. So even though the school district must develop an IEP which details the services the team feels that student needs to progress in the general curriculum, once the parent chooses to take the scholarship, it becomes the parent’s responsibility to ensure their child gets what they need. It is no longer their right under the IEP. It is completely their choice to choose an alternative provider, but alternative providers are under no obligation to honor or provide all services in the IEP developed by the district and parent, and alternative providers are under no obligation to accept all children. Parents also lose their rights to due process that they have under IDEA if their child is receiving special ed services under an IEP in their public school.

          So under certain circumstances, i.e. if there are alternative providers in your area that will accept your child and that offer all the services your child needs, there might be a choice available for special needs students. Then again, there might not. Either way the fact that providers do not have to honor the IEP and parents have no due process is rather troubling. So special needs students are still geographically disadvantaged, either by the school they are zoned for or by the providers that happen to be in their area. At least in the public school, the IEP is a powerful document which parents have some say in developing, and which the school must honor to the letter and provide all the services included, and if the school doesn’t, parents have some recourse through due process. Once a parent takes a special needs scholarship, the IEP becomes a piece of a paper and instead of a team of professionals fighting for what is the best for the child through the IEP process, you have only the parent who may or may not realize what they are getting at the private school.

          And the next point is, in Ohio the majority of eligible students are in urban areas where there are multiple alternative providers for both regular and special ed students. That is not the case in SC. I’m sure you’ll say that would change if vouchers existed as an incentive for schools to develop in rural areas. I won’t say it’s impossible, but I’m skeptical. NCLB requirements for supplementary tutoring by outside providers for schools not meeting standard did not create a wealth of alternative quality options in rural areas. Outside companies came in and hired the very same teachers working in the so-called failing public school to work after school as the tutors. There just are not a lot of options in rural areas.

          1. Doug Ross

            But why wouldn’t you support vouchers in urban areas where there ARE options? Again, I go back to my position on vouchers. If it gives one student a better chance at a better outcome than he would have had in public schools, we should investigate them.

            As for IEP’s, I’ll leave it at this: in my opinion, IEP’s have done more harm than good. It is impossible to tailor education to meet each individual student’s needs and it has established a feeling among some parents that the schools are there to serve them Burger King style: “have it your way”. I go back to my own public education and that of people of a similar age. We didn’t have IEP’s, we didn’t have such an emphasis on high stakes testing, we didn’t have character education, we didn’t have shortened recesses… and we all turned out fine. All the extra tinkering with the educational system has yet to show any measurable difference in the outcomes in general. All this bureaucracy has done has created more stress for teachers, driving out many of the best ones.

            Tell me what you want that will GUARANTEE a better outcome for the students of South Carolina. What will it take to fix one failing school? I’ve been observing public education for two decades and see no success stories. Good outcomes depend on a teacher, a student, and a parent/adult. Trying to fix that on a large scale is impossible.

    2. Abba

      “ ‘You’re taking away dollars from the classroom’. No, they wouldn’t. They would continued to be funded based on their enrollment as they are now. ”

      This oft-repeated statement misses a very important point. Suppose two students left a public high school classroom of 25 students, taking $5000 (or whatever amount) each with them to their new private school. The public school still has to pay the teacher of that classroom of 23 students, but it now has $10,000 less to work with. It also still has all its other standard operating costs (other teachers, heat/air, maintenance, transportation, etc., etc.) after those two students leave. So yes, you are taking money away from the public school classroom.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Worse, you’re ensuring the public schools left behind are more likely to fail, by removing from them the students most likely to succeed — the motivated ones, with motivated parents. Those kids would do just as well back in the public schools, but by removing them you turn the public schools into ghettos of hopelessness, where there are few if any kids succeeding, and by doing so showing others how to succeed…

        1. Doug Ross

          So, wait a second, we already have the system where the motivated students remain in the lousy schools with the lousy students. Why isn’t your “showing others how to succeed” theory working then? All we are doing is holding back the students who might have a chance. You can’t fix unmotivated parents.

          1. Scout

            Explain why you think vouchers should be available to kids who are succeeding in the public schools. How are they being failed by the system?

            Please demonstrate how “the ones that might have a chance” are being held back. The ones that have a chance are succeeding.

            Can you show that modeling of appropriate behavior/skills by the motivated students is not having an effect on the students with more challenges? Is it or is it not possible that they may be getting further than they otherwise would have without the modeling.

          2. Nick

            Could it be the parents don’t push their child get an education because they keep hearing that the schools stink? I ask because I’ve heard more than one person express that self-fulfilling prophecy…

      2. Scout

        This is very true. There is a critical mass effect especially for being able to fund support staff positions such as reading recovery and interventionists.

  3. JoanneH

    What’s missing from this argument is the private schools clamoring for it to happen. Wonder why?

  4. Steve Gordy

    One thing about private schools (actually, a point Brad has made numerous times): In South Carolina, they’re not where they could do the most good, even if state funding were available.

    1. Doug Ross

      And they won’t be as long as there aren’t any voucher dollars to give an incentive to build them.

      Anti-vouchers won’t even allow for a very limited test program. Because it could work.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    No, they are not. And allow me to pull two threads together here.

    Over on this other thread, Scout notes that in the community in which she works, “in the small town where I work, if you don’t have transportation out of town, your choices of places to buy food are the gas station, a convenience store, and dollar general. No fresh vegetables to speak of.”

    Exactly. And as I have noted over and over in recent years, there is no way that the free market produces a good public school that can educate everyone in the community if that same community can’t support a supermarket, vouchers or no vouchers (or tuition tax credits). Advocates of private school “choice” (which we already have, we just don’t support it out of our tax stream) like to cite Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee. I’ll be interested when they show an example of where the approach has worked in poor, thinly populated, rural areas. Because THAT’s where the “bad schools” are in SC….

  6. Doug Ross

    Then let’s just admit what we already know – there is no solution to the problem. You have no solutions only expensive programs that will fail.

    1. Scout

      Doug, I don’t understand comments like the one above juxtaposed with this comment, you made later in this thread,

      “Just because we can’t save all the kids from failing schools (an impossible task and a waste of money) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to save as many as possible.

      You guys would allow everyone on a sinking ship to drown even if you had life jackets for 10% of them.

      You utopian objective is unachievable.”

      In one breath you dismiss all programs as failing because they don’t meet your criteria, and then in the next breath you are saying a program is okay if it does just some good – that every little bit helps. Can you not see that the public programs you dismiss as failing are making some difference to some students. Why do you insist on all or nothing success for public programs yet are okay with helping only 10% through your pet program? In your analogy, the public schools are using all the life jackets they’ve got and saving many many kids, and yet not all, and so you say the entire system is a failure. Why not acknowledge the ones who are succeeding even in so called failing schools, and also the progress towards the standard that others are making even if they aren’t there yet.

      You also say,
      “More of the same is the mantra of those opposed to vouchers”

      And yet, though I have thus far been opposed to vouchers, I have demonstrated to you a discriminating viewpoint that is potentially open to vouchers under the right circumstances. You paint all voucher programs as created equal (and paragons of virtue) and all voucher opposers as unyielding naysayers, when neither is the case.

      To sum up – I am one who has been thus far opposed to vouchers and ‘more of the same’ is not my mantra.”

  7. Doug Ross

    Ánd you realize there are plenty of failing schools within a ten mile radius of the State House, Charleston downtown. Why not start with vouchers for them? You know like they did in Columbus, Ohio? Or do we just let a few more decades pass until you can solve the worst case scenarios?

    There are opportunities to improve outcomes for thousands of students in Columbia alone. But we cant do that because it might work.

    1. Scout

      “There are opportunities to improve outcomes for thousands of students in Columbia alone. But we cant do that because it might work.”

      Actually Doug, we’ve not been able to do that, because no-one has proposed any voucher bill here thus far that remotely resembles the one in Ohio. So where are the opportunities? Until someone proposes a bill that makes students living in poverty eligible first, that requires private schools to teach state standards, and requires all voucher students to take the state standardized test and report the results publicly, we have missed no opportunities.

      Why do you think it is that none of the bills proposed by the lawmakers supported by Rich have had these components?

      1. Doug Ross

        When someone proposes a Columbus-style bill, Scout, would you support it?

        Do you seriously think lawmakers are trying to push a voucher plan just to save themselves a couple thousand dollars? Do you know for a fact that the legislators pushing whatver voucher bills have been proposed will benefit from them?

        1. Scout

          I can’t say outright that I would support it, but I wouldn’t reject it out of hand either. It is definitely the most reasonable proposal I’ve heard thus far. I would want to know more details about how the change in enrollment figures that could result would truly affect the school’s functioning in pragmatic terms, since certain overhead expenses don’t change for example, particularly with regard to the resources left to the children without engaged parents who will have the public schools as their only hope through no fault of their own.

          I can say that I would seriously study any such proposal and would support it if I felt it was viable to help the neediest children without shortchanging others.

          I think the lawmakers have a lot of constituents who would like to send their children to private school to avoid associating with certain types in the public school and who would love it if they didn’t have to pay for it. If this crowd is secretly your target audience, you would need to avoid any stipulation that voucher recipients be impoverished or not meeting standard. You would also want to appease private schools so that they would be willing to accept your target audience by not including any stipulations that private schools use state standards or state standardized tests. I never thought these bills were motivated by the personal situations or personal finances of the lawmakers themselves, per se. I think they are just catering to sentiment out there that is the cultural residue of the attitudes that brought us minimally adequate and segregation academies.

  8. Ralph Hightower

    A number of years ago, I did my own research on Howie Rich; I became aware of him buying South Carolina politicians through The State and the now deceased Rod Shealy’s “BBQ & Politics” blog. I used information from OpenSecrets and the SC Ethics Commission to prepare a Toastmasters speech. I have many various contributions from his many shell corporations in an Excel spreadsheet.

    South Carolina needs a serious reform of their ethics laws. Cindy Scoppe did an excellent job years ago, in tracing the ownership of Howei’s shell corporations that he used to circumvent South Carolina”s campaign contribution limits. Corporations that contribute money to campaigns should have their executive officers listed in the campaign filings; shell corporations should not be allowed to contribute to campaigns or buy politicians.

    Now, here’s my opinion on school vouchers:
    1) I abhor my taxes going to subsidize private schools. That is what “School Choice” or vouchers is really about, government money being sent to private enterprise. 2) If private schools accept public money, then they should meet or exceed South Carolina education standards and also be reportable to South Carolina and her citizens. 3) Private schools accepting state money should run bus service to neighboring counties.
    When I did my initial research into Howie buying politicians, Allendale County did not have a private school and probably still doesn’t.
    My wife and I don’t have children, so we never “used” the system. But public education is the best way to educate our future leaders of tomorrow. The only way that “school vouchers” would be acceptable to me would be if the tax for education, sales, property, and income, were only applied to those have children.

    1. Doug Ross


      How about we expect the PUBLIC SCHOOLS to meet or exceed the standards? They are allowed to fail year after year after year. I don’t think a private school could do worse than many high schools, even some in downtown Columbia.

      More of the same is the mantra of those opposed to vouchers.

    2. Scout

      If private schools are going to receive public money in the form of vouchers, I think they should have to agree to the same stipulations that public school’s operate under – mainly accept everyone, teach the state standards and assess with the state test, report their results publicly, and provide a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities (i.e. implement the IEPs of special needs students per IDEA). I suspect that few private schools would be willing or able to do these things. It’s a moot point anyway since this is not the kind of inclusive use of vouchers that Howie is pushing for and no-one has ever proposed such a bill.

  9. Kathryn Fenner

    The schools don’t fail. These schools teach the most challenged students. They do what they can.

    Heathwood doesn’t want these students, and we could not afford to vouch enough for them to afford to go there. What we would get would be the University of Phoenix type rackets that waste veterans’ benefits quite nicely…..

    1. Steven Davis II

      “The schools don’t fail. These schools teach the most challenged students. They do what they can.”

      As goes the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”.

      Vouchers won’t work as long as you have students who view school as a place to sleep and parents who view it as free daycare. Vocational schools would do much more than vouchers. But until we stop with the mentality of “everyone must go to college” and back to allowing those who don’t want to go to college learn a trade it’s not going to matter. Poor inner city kids can probably change their life by learning to become a plumber, electrician, or mechanic than they can by learning 2nd year French. I’d like to see our educational system reach a point where learning a trade of some sort be a requirement to graduation… whether it be hairstyling, working in a bakery, as a mechanic or some form of construction. It’s shocking to see college age kids who can’t cook a basic meal or do general household or vehicle maintenance.

      1. Doug Ross


        My daughter is teaching culinary (including baking) at Blythewood High School, Many schools are finally understanding that college isn’t for everyone. I went through a vocational high school in the late 70’s in Massachusetts that graduated draftsmen, nurses aides, auto mechanics, carpenters, chefs, computer programmers, hair stylists, plumbers, etc. A very small percentage of my graduating class went on to college… and that was perfectly fine.
        South Carolina is still stuck in the mentality that vocational training is for the worst students or ( the black kids). As usual, the state is held back more by its tight grip on tradition and fear of change and that perpetuates the poor public school system as a result.

        1. Steven Davis II

          Doug – You’d think that SC would be just the opposite… that learning a vocation would be a higher priority than college prep courses since we have a 33%+ drop out rate with the current curriculum. With HVAC companies begging for applicants we have law school graduates service coffee at Starbucks and waiting tables in 5-Points because the market is flooded with law school graduates with no experience.

          Have you been to the Home & Garden show at the fairgrounds where they have a competition involving masonry, construction, blueprint reading and probably things like wiring. It’s a free school where kids who want to learn the trades are required to build a set of plans within a certain time-frame. This should be an every high school provided option vs. an “alternative school” option.

  10. Doug Ross

    We’ll never know until we try, will we? All I can say is that you are ignoring the reality happening across the country.

    Just because we can’t save all the kids from failing schools (an impossible task and a waste of money) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to save as many as possible.

    You guys would allow everyone on a sinking ship to drown even if you had life jackets for 10% of them.

    You utopian objective is unachievable.

  11. Steve Gordy

    Doug, your last post makes a valid point. So why is it that when someone proposes further regulation of firearms and/or ammo, the naysayers always cavil that it’s no good because it won’t prevent all gun-related crime?

    1. Doug Ross


      You mean the deranged right wing gun nuts? You’re right – I would put the people who close their minds to vouchers as soon as the word is mentioned in the same class of people.

      “You’ll take away my right to send someone else’s kid to a failing public school when you pry him from my cold, dead hands”

Comments are closed.