Better than nothing is better than nothing
April 18, 2005
Governor Sanfordís school choice bill, Put Parents in Charge, will apparently be barely recognizable when the House Ways and Means Committee is finished with it. If the committee adopts an amendment that reportedly has the support of the billís chief sponsor, choice will be an option open only to children attending the poorest performing schools in the state. Thatís woefully inadequate, but better than nothing.
According to the Spartanburg Herald Journal, the House Ways and Means Committee will look at several options today to scale back the program. PPIC chief House sponsor Doug Smith of Spartanburg reportedly supports one by Rep. Jim McGee (R-Florence). Under the McGee amendment, PPIC would:
∑ Apply only to schools rated below average or unsatisfactory
∑ Provide either a straight voucher or a tax credit, depending on income levels.
∑ Do away with Scholarship Granting Organizations and the tax credits to individuals and businesses that contributed to them.
∑ Allow students at failing schools to transfer to a private school, another public school in the district or another public school in another district.
∑ Preserve the tax credit option for home-schoolers only if the school they would otherwise attend is rated below average or unsatisfactory.
Under McGeeís amendment:
∑ A family of four with income of less than 250 percent of the poverty rate -- currently about $48,000 -- would receive a voucher equal to 75 percent of the state's per-pupil spending to send their children to a private school.
∑ Families earning more would receive less.
∑ Families of special-needs children would receive a voucher or tax credit equal to 100 percent of state funding to transfer their children.
Based on the current school report cards, students attending about 150 of the state's schools -- about 12 percent of the 675,000 students statewide -- would qualify for tax credits or vouchers.
With Smith, the billís chief sponsor, supporting the amendment, itís now highly unlikely that a more inclusive bill can pass. If the new version passes the Ways and Means Committee, school choice proponents will have to decide whether to continue to support PPIC in its much watered down form, or opposed the legislation altogether and hope for a better bill next year.
The Herald Journal quotes Smith as saying, "I will support any amendment that focuses on bringing about relief for families in underperforming schools. We're dealing with the social consequences of failing to properly educate our children. The taxpayers are paying for that in some form, whether it's more money for jails or social services."
Iím not sure why Smith is giving up on his and Sanfordís plan even before the Ways and Means Committee meets, but I suspect it has something to do with the political effect of the critical report by the state Board of Economic Advisors, most notably the defection of co-sponsor, Rep. Shirley Hinson of Goose Creek.
As disappointed as I am in the changes, I will not take a hike if the weaker bill emerges. Better than nothing is, well, better than nothing. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of school choice is, and always has been, to improve the education system with the injection of market forces.
Enabling some 60-thousand students to leave the worst performing schools does subject those schools to competition they have never known before. That will benefit both those who leave and those who stay behind. Other schools, wanting to avoid the same fate, will also improve.
It has never been excusable to refuse to help some children because we canít help them all. This new version wonít help nearly enough children and parents, but itís a start, and you can always build on a start.
A final thought -- do you suppose all of those people who said they opposed PPIC because it allegedly only helped the affluent will now come rushing forward in support of the McGee version of the bill? It would certainly bolster their credibility if they do.