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There's competition and there's competition
Jonathan Pait
March 6, 2002

Monday was an interesting day. Most of the time was spent in the car, but there were also opportunities to hear from two of our gubernatorial candidates. Listening to them was like driving down from Mount Mitchell to Pawley's Island! The plans had no common positions but they both touted a single foundational principle "competition."

So, what made them different? Well, there's competition and then there is competition.

First, I happened to swing by the Peace Center on Monday morning to hear what Mark Sanford had to say about his plan. Man, it was cold! However, I was able to hear him say over the chattering of my teeth that one of the goals of his plan was to allow the external competition of home schooling and private schooling to help augment an internal competition between public schools.

The premise: external private education is healthy for internal government run educational improvement.

Now, off to First Monday. First Monday is a Republican club that meets on the First Monday of every month. Upstate Republicans sit around chewing fried chicken or ham, getting to know one another and then listening to various speakers brought to the club by Deb Sofield, Greenville City Councilwoman and candidate for Comptroller General.

Here we heard from candidate Jim Miles. Of course, Secretary of State Miles' plan has been about for a few weeks. Still, certain points were accentuated by the juxtaposition of his speech with the earlier conference with Sanford.

Secretary Miles made the point at the beginning of his speech that he believed in the power of the private sector. He pointed out that is why he would be backing plans to build a new port in Jasper County. It would be an obvious boost to the current port in Charleston to have private competition. However, when it came time to talk about education, the Secretaries approach to competition changed.

Like Sanford's plan, Miles' plan calls for competition within the public school system. Parents can move their children from a failing school to another school within the system and the money would follow the student. However, unlike Sanford's plan, Miles' plan stops there. Sanford goes forward to offer sales tax credit of $500 to home school parents and a $3,550 Academic Passport for students attending failing schools to move to private schools.

I asked Secretary Miles if private competition was good for a government run port, why couldn't that same concept work for education? I didn't get a straight answer. In answer, the point he emphasized was that if South Carolina was going to be competitive in the market place, the key was improvement of the public school system. Okay, who would argue with that? I have no argument with that one. An educated and informed populace is necessary to our society’s success. The public school system certainly plays an important role in that goal.

However, that didn't answer the question. I was left with the impression that his premise was that external private education is unhealthy for internal government run educational improvement.

Is this true? Miles' concern is that the introduction of private competition will create two classes of South Carolinians, the "have-educations" and the "have-not-educations." Well, I think he is wrong. It is true that strong competition can stamp out a weak and inferior product. It is also true that competition can allow the competitors to strengthen their weaknesses allowing both systems to flourish. Our public schools are not weak and inferior. There are certain provisions that the public schools do much better than private and home schools.

Either way, South Carolina is better off. If the system is so weak it cannot stand up under the competition, then do away with the system and allow all students to move into the competitive market. Now, really, do you really believe that would happen? No, competition is just what the educrats need to put more focus on the actual education of our children.

What were some other things that really surprised this listener? Extending the school day from three o'clock to five! It was even hinted that school through summer would also be best. Excuse me, the government school system having my kids from 7:00 a.m. (the bus) until 6:00 p.m. (the bus) twelve months out of the year is NOT an option!

I walked out of the meeting in shock. Secrectary of State Jim Miles is a man of integrity and he has done an incredible job in his position. I agree with him on many things, but on education we part ways.

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