I hope the court’s deadline doesn’t blow chance at education reform

I find myself in an unusual position.

Normally, I’d be cheering loudly for Cindi Scoppe’s column today lighting into legislative leaders for complaining that the state Supreme Court has given them a deadline for coming up with a plan to fix poor, rural schools in South Carolina. Excerpts:

Yet for 22 years, our legislators have done absolutely nothing to fix the problems raised in the Abbeville lawsuit.

No, worse than nothing.

They have spent more than two decades and God only knows how much of our tax money fighting that lawsuit — paying lawyers and experts to argue that everything in those plaintiff districts was just fine and dandy, when anyone with eyes could see that it was not.

The way forward was clear from the start: for legislators to make the lawsuit moot, by fixing the problems before the justices could get around to issuing an order. But they refused, and last fall the justices finally ruled that the state is failing its constitutional obligation to provide the children in our poorest school districts with an education they need to get good jobs and support their families and pay taxes and in other ways help make our state a better place for us all….

The court, inappropriately, it turns out, did not set a deadline. Until last week, by which time it had become painfully clear even to people who do not understand our Legislature that our Legislature does not do hard things until it has no choice. So the court set a Feb. 1 deadline for the defendants to present a plan to address the problems set forth in last year’s landmark ruling….

Were I still at the paper, I might be the one writing those words. In fact, I’d be using even stronger, more condemnatory language — and Cindi, ever pragmatic, would be the one doing her best to hold me back and telling me to recognize reality and not make perfect the enemy of the good.

But today, I’m sort of in the Cindi role, because of some unique circumstances. In fact, when I saw that the court had set a deadline for less than a month after the Legislature comes back into session, I worried, thinking, I hope this doesn’t foul up an historic opportunity.

I thought that because of what I’ve been hearing lately from my old friend Bud Ferillo.

Many of you may know Bud as the guy who made the documentary “Corridor of Shame,” which coined the phrase that all SC education reformers use to describe some of our most distressed rural schools. He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from way back, and not one to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

And if there is an issue on which Republicans have earned doubt in South Carolina, it’s public education. Since they have assumed control of the Legislature, actual proposals to improve schools don’t even get a hearing in the State House, much less get approved. Say “school reform” to them, and as a group they will more than start talking about the latest plan to pay parents to abandon public schools — excuse me, “government schools,” government being by its nature a bad thing, you understand — altogether.

So I was struck when I heard Bud, as a participant in a panel sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council over the summer, start talking almost rhapsodically about school reform — real, systemic reform that would lift up rural districts — that was coming, that was just around the corner. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Bud after that event because I left early, but then I heard him saying it again on a forum on ETV.

On both occasions, no one took him up on what he said. They just sort of nodded and moved on. So I asked Bud to breakfast one morning recently. He had an appointment he had to leave for so we didn’t get into what he was talking about as deeply as I would have liked, which is why I haven’t written about our conversation.

But here are the bare bones (and if I’m getting any of this wrong, Bud, correct me): When he became Speaker last year, Jay Lucas appointed a panel to start working on a plan to address what the court has instructed the Legislature to do about poor, rural schools. I had been vaguely aware that Lucas had such a committee holding hearings around the state. From early in the last legislative session, I had seen releases such as this one:

MEDIA ADVISORY: House Education Task Force to Host Public Hearing/Meeting in Dillon

Will receive testimony and valuable input from education leaders

(Columbia, SC) – The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force that House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) appointed in January will hold a public hearing/meeting on Monday, March 23, 2015.Jay Lucas
WHO: The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force – a group comprised of elected officials, educators, plaintiff representatives fromAbbeville v. State, and private sector job creators who are tasked with laying the groundwork for comprehensive education reform
WHAT: Task Force members will receive testimony and valuable input form invited school superintendents, retired educators, nonprofiteducation groups, and other involved members within the education community.  After the invited guests have concluded, concerned citizens will also be given the opportunity to address the group (see additional information).
WHEN: Monday, March 23, 2015 at 4:00PM
WHERE: Dillon Middle School – 1803 Joan Drive, Dillon, SC
WHY: South Carolina’s education system needs significant reform so that every child in every part of our state has access to a 21st centuryeducation. This Task Force is responsible for putting together a report with their findings and must be submitted to Speaker Lucas before the beginning of next year’s legislative session.

But I hadn’t seen any coverage of these hearings, or read or heard anything about what the committee was doing. Were I still at the paper, and still had such people at my disposal, I would have assigned a reporter or (later) an editorial writer to look into what was going on. But I’m not, and such people are thin on the ground these days, and having one spend a day running up to Dillon for a hearing is probably not high on many editors’ priority lists.

(Actually, in defense of my friends who still have newspaper jobs, I do find some coverage when I go look for it now. I just missed it at the time.)

And since I don’t get paid to do this blog, I was in no position to undertake such legwork. So I remained in the dark, until I started getting these inklings from Bud. Bud has stayed in close touch with the process, and he says this is a great panel, largely stocked with real reformers, and they’re pulling together a lot of great ideas that are to go into legislation that we’ll be seeing in the coming session, blessed by the speaker.

But, skeptical based on decades of disappointment, I said A panel with a plan is all very well and good, but how will this fare, say, on the floor of the House? Is the speaker truly committed to push this reform you speak of when the inevitable pushback comes? I mean, he has the reputation of a reformer and he’s actually from a small town and knows about the needs in rural areas, but is he committed? Bud assured me that yes, he was — and then he had to run.

That was a couple of weeks ago.

So I’m short on details, and I really need to find some time to talk to legislative leaders about all this, and I’ve been meaning to, but haven’t. And now the court has laid down this deadline, which you know is going to get the GOP caucus all ticked off and resistant (that is, even more resistant) about doing something they don’t want to do anyway, much less do it right.

So when Speaker Lucas said, in reaction to the court’s new deadline, “Because of your actions, months and months of hard work has been potentially placed in jeopardy,” I got worried. Because I don’t think he’d say that lightly.

I got to worrying that maybe the deadline might be tossing a hand grenade into delicate preparations at precisely the wrong moment. I mean, this House coming up with real, substantive education reform is such a stretch, and would take such heavy lifting, and everything would have to go just right for it to actually happen. The forces against reform would seize on anything that might help them stop it, and the petty resentments caused by an arbitrary court deadline could give them aid and comfort.

But you know what? Cindi usually knows way more about what she’s talking about than I do. I hope that, as usual, that is the case in this instance…


59 thoughts on “I hope the court’s deadline doesn’t blow chance at education reform

  1. Doug Ross

    There isn’t a single thing the Legislature can do to improve education in South Carolina. More money, less money, more oversight, less oversight, more testing, less testing. All have been tried.

    (Parent+student+teacher)^(poverty level) That’s the equation. The best way to spend education dollars would be to educate poor women to delay having children until they are 25 years old. I’ve said it before but I’d pay women to NOT have kids until that age. Give them an incentive to improve their situation before dropping more kids into failed schools.

      1. Doug Ross

        I said spending it on education. It doesn’t work. There are too many examples of spending more yielding no meaningful results.

        Take the lottery money and give every female age 14 to 24 a check for $5K if they remain childless until then. Double it if they use it for college.

  2. Mark Stewart

    When your committee process begins to make the court appear emasculated, the justices have no option but to put a hard stop to it. It’s not what they want to do; but given the alternative that is the way the tree falls.

    Lucas should have seen it coming; in fact would be hard to believe he hadn’t been forewarned.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Just talked to Bud about it, and he’s doesn’t have a problem with the deadline itself — although he’s concerned that Lucas is concerned.

    And I think for the same reason I am — for this Legislature to do anything significant for schools, it would take not only commitment from the leadership, but then everything would have to go right. It would be a very, very delicate matter, which is why nothing has happened all these years. And this deadline, which could really stir people up in Lucas’ caucus, doesn’t feel like “everything going right.”

    To change the subject slightly — Bud reiterated, as he said at breakfast before, that HIS big worry is that the Legislature failed to deal with roads this past session, so any funding that might be needed for what the panel comes up with is going to have to compete with THAT huge priority. In an election year. “Election year” refers to that time when Republicans are terrified that someone way more crazy right wing they they are is going to oppose them in a primary, possibly funded by a public education hater like Howard Rich.

    Of course, they’re kind of terrified of that all the time…

  4. Jeff Mobley

    Brad, I hope, along with you, that there is real reform in the works that can actually be passed by the legislature. Assuming there is, I also hope that the court deadline doesn’t have a negative impact on the prospects for reform.

    But when I read lines like the following, I can’t just let them pass:

    Say “school reform” to them, and as a group they will more than start talking about the latest plan to pay parents to abandon public schools — excuse me, “government schools,” government being by its nature a bad thing, you understand — altogether.

    Now first of all, I know the school choice issue is not the main point of your post. Second, let me acknowledge that there are politicians and others out there who do in fact believe that the public school system is so bad that no reform short of giving up on public schools is worth trying. As you know, I do not take that view. But no matter your view of public schools, it is very strange to describe school choice proposals as “pay[ing] parents to abandon public schools”. I have run this same phrase (and challenged it) before. I think most of us have heard the idea – championed by Lindsey Graham and others – to give veterans a voucher they could take to any medical provider if they aren’t satisfied with the service provided by the VA. Would you characterize such a program as “paying veterans to abandon the VA”? Doesn’t the VA exist to serve veterans, rather than the other way around?

    Similarly, the public schools exist to serve our families’ students. It’s not the other way around.

    Let me emphasize that I agree that since the vast majority of students in our state attend public schools, the funding of public education must be reformed. I advocate school choice as a component of, not as a substitute for, funding reform. Right now we have very limited tax-credit scholarship program. There are lots of variations on the theme of school choice, however, such as Education Savings Accounts like they have in Nevada (in some ways like a 529 account that you can use for your K-12 kids, and the government pays into it). There’s all kinds of information available from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

    I really don’t see why school choice should be that controversial, conceptually. I’m afraid that certain advocates for school choice have left such a bad taste here in South Carolina that even many reasonable people are somewhat poisoned against it, including virtually everyone at The State who editorializes on the subject.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Jeff, I’ve just spent too many years dealing with the people who push vouchers and tax credits, and this is almost done within the context of rhetoric that trashes the very idea of public schools, and goes on and on about how horrible “government” schools are, and how anyone who COULD get away from them would.

      The hostility to public education is palpable. That’s why I describe it as “paying people to abandon public schools.”

      School “choice” is a slippery term. Sometimes it is used to refer to charter schools, which I have always supported as potentially valuable laboratories for trying different approaches.

      But that’s not what it usually means, here in South Carolina. Here, the term describes another way of funding the exodus from public schools that began in 1970 when actual integration came to SC schools, 16 years after Brown v. Board.

      Here’s the thing about public schools — they are ours. They are the ONLY schools that are in any way accountable to us, the people of South Carolina (and WE are the ones public education serves, not just the parents or kids; we ALL need a state with an educated population). If the schools aren’t getting the job done, we should change the SCHOOLS until we are satisfied that they ARE doing the job.

      Private schools don’t answer to us. So I refuse to have any resources routed away from public schools, directly or indirectly, to finance them.

      You want to send your kids to a private school? Go ahead. (I wish you wouldn’t — the kind of parent who cares enough to pay private tuition is just the kind of motivated parent we need engaged with public schools — but that’s up to you.) But don’t ask the taxpayers of SC to underwrite that decision…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, Jeff, note that I’m not talking about you or your motivations. I’m talking about the movement for private school “choice” in general, and what I have observed about it.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, any political campaign that wraps itself in the word “choice” arouses my suspicion immediately. It’s an all-American-sounding word (“Who could be against choice? That’s like being against Freedom!”) that is used to wrap up and disguise an idea that wouldn’t be able to take the political heat on its own.

        You know, like abortion…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Interestingly, it was a “pro-choice” friend who came up with the hardest-hitting argument against that terminology that I’ve ever heard.

          When I told him I was unpersuaded by “pro-choice” arguments, he said, “Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like saying that personally, I’m morally opposed to lynching, but I don’t think I have the right to stand in the way of someone else — say, the family member of a murder victim — who believes that a lynching is necessary.”

          I don’t recall how he was able to continue to be “pro-choice” in light of that realization; I just remember the analogy…

      3. Doug Ross

        I wish people who buy Ferraris would buy Yugos instead because we need more engaged drivers to help improve the production of Yugos.

      4. Jeff Mobley

        The concept of accountability is very important, but it is frankly amazing to me that so many fear schools being directly accountable to the very people who are most concerned with the educational development of our students: their parents.

        The way some describe them, you’d think that private schools were totally unregulated enterprises run by mad scientists. In fact, they’re subject to substantial regulation. And they are accountable, in a very important way, and in a way that government is not: They depend on customers for their very existence.

        You are absolutely right that the benefits of an educated population accrue to all of us as citizens of South Carolina. This is why we invest taxpayer dollars in education. But it does not follow that, because we all have a stake in the education of the students in our state, that those kids become wards of the state with respect to decisions about where they get their education.

        Again, I would make an analogy to the VA system. Would you argue against Senator Graham’s proposed medical voucher for veterans on the grounds that private hospitals aren’t accountable to us like the VA hospitals are?

        Giving parents the power to choose a private school makes both public and private schools accountable to those parents at the same time. Without that power, parents whose students are in underperforming schools have to wait until “we change the SCHOOLS until we are satisfied that they ARE doing the job.” If that change doesn’t come fast enough, why should students from a low-income family be stuck in a less than optimal environment, while those from a family of means have the option to be educated outside the public school system?

        1. Doug Ross

          When I ran for school board in 2002, there was a question at one of the candidate forums about vouchers. I said I was for them while everyone else was opposed. One of the candidates said “There is no accountability for private schools.” My response was “There is accountability — it’s called the parent’s checkbook.” Then I dropped the mic. Ok, that last part didn’t happen.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And of course, that is NOT accountability, so you might as well have dropped it.

            Perhaps this is why you lost. But don’t feel bad; as I think I told you before; my Dad ran for school board about 25 years ago and got creamed.

            I don’t know why, except that he found going around currying favor with various groups was distasteful to him, and so he avoided it.

            One of his neighbors, also a retired Naval officer, had a theory: He had seen my Dad going around the neighborhood with my daughter who was then about 3, dropping off leaflets. He later said, “I knew you were in trouble when I saw you with your campaign manager, who was sucking her thumb.” Frankly, I think she was a great asset to the campaign, and underutilized…

        2. Karen Pearson

          Part of the problem, Jeff, is that the people who can afford private schools have no problem, but when they abandon the public school they take money from that school. Meanwhile, the kids who need the most help, and whose parents cannot afford any private school are left in a school that has less money to provide that help. At that point they have no chance at all. Those school become nothing but (temporary) holding pens for our future criminals, alcoholics, and druggies. Once again, we are back to an almost totally segregated system, which is what caused this problem to start with.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Part of the problem, Jeff, is that the people who can afford private schools have no problem, but when they abandon the public school they take money from that school.”

            How do you mean? Doesn’t the school still get the same amount of money from the taxpayers, including the parents who enroll their child in private school? Are you talking about PTA fundraising money or something?

        3. Brad Warthen Post author

          Jeff, you’re thinking of public education like a consumer, rather than as a citizen. I’ve explained why that is problematic in the past, and here is one place I did that.

          If you don’t have time to go there, here’s a brief summary of why it’s off-point to suggest that public schools are accountable if they are responsive to the individual parents who send their kids there:

          Public education is not a consumer transaction between individual parents and the schools. Public education exists for the WHOLE community, and must be accountable to it. And that includes any money that is pulled out of the system and spent on something else.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Public education exists for the WHOLE community, and must be accountable to it.”

            How are things going with that accountability so far?

            Keep doing the same thing, and you’ll keep getting the same results.

            1. Doug Ross

              Yes, Bryan.. I would also like to know Brad’s definition of accountability when it comes to public education and how he believes that accountability has been applied to deal with poor performance. Accountability is absolutely NOT testing or gathering statistics. That is accounting. Accountability would expect action to be taken when faced with negative results. Beyond dealing with specific criminal activity by members of the education establishment (teachers, administrators, school boards), there is very little done to hold people accountable.

              Two decades of PACT/PASS testing has resulted in no meaningful change in the performance of SC’s public education system. All the testing showed was what we already knew – poor kids perform worse than any other group no matter how much money is spent. Spending double the average pupil spending in Allendale didn’t work.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Frankly, I don’t think it’s going so well, mainly because of dysfunction in the General Assembly. There are all sorts of ways to improve public education, but they don’t even seriously consider any of them. They’re too fixated on the idea of whether public education should BE or not…

              Unfortunately, we see accountability in public schools more in its negative manifestation — with educators being terrified of bad publicity or anything that might get them into trouble.

              I’ll still take that over a school that has ZERO cause to be accountable to us…

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              And I love the way Doug says, “So how would you have accountability work,” and then says “And no using any objective standards or anything else that we might reach a practical consensus on as a way of measuring performance.”

              It’s like he asks, “How do you treat an infection?” and then adds, “And don’t talk to me about antibiotics!”

            4. Brad Warthen Post author

              That said, here’s my answer to his question: Empower principals to hire and fire and really run their schools. Institute merit pay, NOT based on how many degrees a teacher has, but on the principal’s and superintendent’s judgment of his or her performance…

              In other words, I’d go to a subjective judgment model. It’s just that that is almost impossible politically, so I’m willing to accept standardized testing as an imperfect substitute until we get what I really want…

              1. Doug Ross

                But you have been saying that public schools are accountable NOW. I am asking you to tell us in what way they are accountable now, not what you would do to make them accountable.

                PACT and PASS are not about accountability. They are about gathering data. It’s like taking a person’s blood pressure and sugar levels and not doing anything when they are both high.

                Where is this accountability you say exists that private schools do not have?

              2. Doug Ross

                “Empower principals to hire and fire and really run their schools. Institute merit pay, NOT based on how many degrees a teacher has, but on the principal’s and superintendent’s judgment of his or her performance…”

                You mean like they do at private schools?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Yes, and here we get to the thing that Doug HATES about the public sphere.

                  Public employees DO answer to the whole society, rather than to one boss, so the wishes of the whole society have to be taken into account. Which means you have a political problem with subjective judgments, because all sorts of factions, from public employees to racial minorities, will claim that it is unfair. Whereas it’s tough to argue with numbers, as I would think you would agree.

                  It’s really kind of weird. Normally, I would be the guy defending judgment over numbers, and Doug would be extolling the virtue of numbers…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    It’s just like with setting public policy — if it’s not a policy that Doug would implement if he were in charge, then obviously government doesn’t work right. When anything public has to acknowledge the wishes of all sorts of people, not just Doug. Or me.

              3. Doug Ross

                What numbers are you talking about? There are no accountability numbers. There are test scores. A test score without an action plan associated with poor results is not accountability. I’d gladly talk numbers with you. I’m the one who has actually loaded the test score data into a database to look at them. If it were up to me, I’d use three year trends on student performance based on those scores to pay or fire teachers. I’d also stop promoting any kid who did not meet the basic score level for reading and math. I’d set up separate high school rules for lower level students that were 100% focused on literacy — no sports teams, no phys ed, mandatory reading comprehension classes every day.

                We keep asking for examples for accountability that you claim exists in public schools and you keep dodging the question by referencing what you would do instead or public pressures preventing it. So is there actual accountability or not?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Um, I’ve answered that question several ways, Doug.

                  And I’m still puzzled about what kind of data you’re talking about. How would you measure “student performance” without testing, exactly?

              4. Doug Ross

                You keep missing the point. If you are going to measure performance and NOT DO ANYTHING WITH THE RESULTS, it’s not accountability. If you check your tire pressure and it is low and then you keep driving on it, you are not being accountable when you get a flat tire.

                We’ve had PASS and PACT for two decades and have see no measurable difference in the results. Either they aren’t doing anything meaningful with the vast amounts of data they have or else they are doing wrong things. That’s not being accountable. Accountability means someone takes the blame or the responsibility when things go wrong. That does not happen in the public schools. They’ll cherry pick numbers every year to give the appearance of improvement and then when the cherries are all rotten, they change the entire test to start the process over again. It’s all about P.R. and not about education.

          2. Jeff Mobley

            Brad, your “consumer vs. citizen” argument seems to be an argument against a claim that I am not making.

            In other words, I am not claiming that citizens who don’t have school-age children should not have to pay taxes that go to K-12 education.

            Nor am I claiming that the dollar value of the education each child receives should somehow be made to equal the amount of education taxes that his/her parents paid. That would be logistically impossible, and it would be absurd even if it were easy to do.

            Let me repeat: I believe that an educated citizenry benefits us all, that education is a legitimate expenditure for the state government, and that it is legitimate to tax people in order to fund that expenditure, even if those people never have a child that needs to be educated in our state.

            How public funds for education are sourced, in terms of tax revenue, is a completely different question from the issue of how those funds are distributed. When it comes to tax credit scholarships generally, it can be argued that both sides of the equation are impacted, but they still function independently of each other (if you donate to the grant organization, then you’re eligible for the tax credit; if you are a student with exceptional needs, then you’re eligible for a grant).

            What I AM suggesting is that, whatever the source of public funds for education, in order to get the best bang for our buck (“our” referring to the citizenry of the state as a whole), and in light of the fact that children are not uniform, interchangeable widgets, it makes sense allocate funds equitably on a per-child basis, and it also makes sense to give parents the power to direct the allocation for their particular child, whether by enrolling the child in a public school, or by enrolling the child in a private school, or by homeschooling the child.

            Let me close by posing a hypothetical:

            Suppose every student currently enrolled in a private school, or currently being homeschooled, immediately transferred to the public school system.
            Would the state have the obligation to educate those students, or not?
            Would that event change the amount of funding available for public education by one cent?
            In other words, every family that is educating a child in an environment other than a public school, right now, is saving the government money, and is paying the same amount in taxes that they would be paying if they weren’t.

            So what I’m saying is not that we’re all consumers of public education. What I am saying is that, when parents are empowered with options, then schools (public and private) must treat them like customers, and that mechanism will serve to give the public the best return on its investment in education.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I brought up the “consumer vs. citizen” dichotomy because of what you just said at the end there: “What I am saying is that, when parents are empowered with options, then schools (public and private) must treat them like customers.” It was in the context of what constitutes accountability.

              But yeah, you’re right, a more stark example of the phenomenon (and probably the example I used on previous occasions) is when people think they shouldn’t have to pay taxes if they don’t have kids in public schools. Which would mean, of course, that we would have no public schools. Last time I checked (years ago), only 27 percent of households had kids in the schools.

  5. Jeff Mobley

    Well, I always have at least one typo. This time, I used “run” when I what I meant was “run into”.

  6. clark surratt

    On this education debate, I can’t get beyond my simple-minded questions.
    Is there some magic per pupil spending amount that satisfies the Sup. Ct. ? Is there a certain way this money is to be spent? I
    Is there more here at stake besides money, including local vs. state control of public education? I
    s there any place in the country that has figured how to best deliver an ongoing quality education to mainly poor students? If so, why don’t we run as fast as we can and adopt it?
    Do these questions make me hopelessly uninformed on the subject?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Clark, the Supreme Court not only doesn’t specify an amount of money, it doesn’t specify an approach. The court just says you’re the Legislature, so legislate. We have found you are failing in your basic constitutional responsibility to provide equal access to a good education, so fix it.

      1. Doug Ross

        Here’s my questions: how much money do you want? How long will it take to show measurable significant improvement? And how will you measure improvement?

        The answers are, undoubtedly, a lot more, a long time, and whatever will make it look like it’s working.

        If we double spending, will you guarantee a 50% drop in illiteracy and high school dropouts in ten years? That would seem to be a minimum goal. If you don’t achieve that, can we THEN consider vouchers for kids in the worst schools?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          There of course, IS no possible real-world answer to anyone who asks, “How much spending is enough?” or “How much is too much to pay in taxes?”

          Which is why people who hate spending and taxes raise those questions.

          There is no such thing as an OVERALL amount that is enough, or too much, or too little, when it comes to spending and taxation. A pragmatic, nonideological person looks at each spending item: Is this enough to do the job properly, or just enough to fail? Will this particular tax raise the needed revenue without putting an undue burden on economic activity?

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know what always worries ME when we talk about lifting up everybody to see that they get a good education? It’s related, in a glancing way, to what Doug said in his first comment above.

    I worry that, since a child’s brain has either developed to learn or not by age 3, it doesn’t really matter how good your 4K or K-12 programs are; the kid who didn’t get the proper stimulation as a baby is ALWAYS going to be behind.

    On that score, Bud mentioned to me a program in Lexington County — I want to say near Swansea — that is particularly aimed at the 0-3 developmental problem. I want to know more about that…

    1. clark surratt

      I often hear of “good programs'” here and there, and Bud told me of some even in the corridor of shame. . What I want to know is there anywhere in the country where a school district (or anybody) has figured what works for a high poverty school district over a sustained period of time. If they haven’t, then I don’t have much hope for poor little old South Carolina.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        A number of years ago, I recall that there was data to show that Richland Two, for instance, did a better job educating poor students (measured by numbers of kids on free or reduced lunch) than Richland One did.

        I don’t know enough to explain why that was, or whether it is still true. District Two has gone through a lot of changes since Hefner’s day…

        1. Doug Ross

          It’s because they are surrounded by kids who are better off. That means exposure to different cultural behaviors, different language use, more engaged parents who help pull everyone along (as a PTO President for two years at a Richland 2 elementary school,, I saw the impact of engaged mothers).

          So all we need to do is export rich parents to poor districts. Or give stipends to parents in poor districts to help them move to better districts.

          1. Doug Ross

            It’s definitely NOT funding. According to the Department of Education data, Richland 2 was rated an Excellent district in 2014 with spending per pupil of $10,380. Williamsburg 01, a district rated Good, spent $10,503. Clarendon 1 which went from Good to Average in 2014 despite a 4.7% increase in spending per pupil, spent $14,090. 40% more per pupil than the Excellent district.

            If 40% caused a drop from Good to Average, maybe they should spend 40% LESS to get back on track.

            All that money is going somewhere… probably not where it would do the most good.

    2. Karen Pearson

      The importance of early (0-3) experience for a child cannot be over emphasized. We need to put some money and equally important, good people into introducing these experiences into early childhood for the people in these areas, as well as any other depressed populations. It can be done, however, through parent coaching and supported child care.

    3. Scout

      yes, it’s in Swansea – Lexington District 4 Early Childhood Center. It was in his latest documentary – When The Bough Breaks, I think. I don’t know a lot about it other than what was in the documentary, which I saw over a year ago. I remember thinking it sounded very hopeful also.

      Here is the website:

  8. Harry Harris

    You would have thought the court gave them until next Friday to turn-in their paper. February. Get yourself into gear and produce something. Foot-dragging has become a chief modus operandi of our legislature. The court finding was a failure to provide resources. Provide resources, including money, expertise, and oversight.

    The bulk of this thread reminds me, as do most education reform discussions, of the Blind Men and the Elephant story about theological disputes. Each thinks his barely-informed part of the picture tells the whole story and has a fine rationale to support it. All are slightly true, but mostly wrong. Almost all ignore important context. Most annoyingly, the vast majority place their very limited experience and untested ideology above the expertise and experience of those who have actual preparation for and experience in doing the job. Even many teachers and other educators base their positions on limited perspectives and sometimes cloud their views with personal career (and economic) goals.
    This stuff isn’t easy, but it is time to stop delaying and pronouncing and get to the one factor needed to make any reform work – commitment – at all levels and by all stakeholders.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Harry, Feb. 1 comes about 9 working days into the session (I’m trying to find when the session starts and having trouble at the moment).

      So yeah, it is exactly like they were given until next Friday, next Friday being nine days from now.

      You can sneer by saying they could work harder, but the thing is that outside committee work, the Legislature as a whole can only act conclusively on something when it is assembled as a whole…

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Maybe the Legislature can ask for an extension. Common legal custom ’round these parts is to give a first extension as a matter of course.

      1. Harry Harris

        Not sneering. Is it not allowable for a task force to function outside of the time the legislature is in session? I suspect the non-lawmaker members of the task force are serving without pay and that staff they employ aren’t unavailable to do grunt work during the 3 months until January.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Roads and schools; most important government functions after sewer and water.

            Government in SC – at all levels – is not appreciating those responsibilities. If the legislature needs to vote for a temporary measure their second week back, so be it. The Court isn’t asking them to implement the perfect solution, they have only been asked to do SOMETHING POSITIVE. It isn’t a high hurdle. Lucas should know that better than me.

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