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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Let's Call It What It Is
Jonathan Pait
July 29, 2002

Last week, Jay Reiff, Hodges' campaign spokesman is quoted as saying, "Vouchers take tax dollars out of public schools that benefit all children, and instead use these funds to help a few children attend expensive private schools." That is a lie.

The article "S.C. Democrats seek to ban school vouchers" found in The State also attributes the following to Mr. Reiff, "adopting a voucher plan would be essentially giving up on South Carolina's public schools." Again--a lie.

Lie number one: Public schools are less expensive than private schools. This myth exists primarily because those directly benefiting from public education don't pay for it directly. Also, all taxpayers contribute so parents never really take the full force of the expense.

You see a different story when each student has a dollar amount assigned to them. The national average per student in the public system is nearly $8,800 a year. This is comparable to some elite schools providing specialized services. According to an article in the August issue of School Reform News, an "elite" school in Richmond, VA, tailored to serving the learning disabled, charges $1,400 less per student than the Richmond, VA public school system. There are many more examples with a larger gap.

There are some pretty exclusive schools charging into the five figures. Those opposed to school choice would paint all private schools this same color. This is as unfair as it is to describe all public schools as failures.

In South Carolina revenues for public education near $5 billion. The per-student expense is $7,179 (this according to the National Center for Education Statistics). This means that if the public school were to invoice the parents on an 11 month plan, parents would have to write checks of $648 each month.

Now take a look at some of the private schools in South Carolina. I picked up the phone and got online to find out how much it would cost to send a child to one of a number of schools. What did I find? Well, in the Upstate I did find a school with a five-figure tuition. Christ Church Episcopal School weighed in at $10,150.00 (9th grade) with the highest I encountered.

Two of the largest private schools (both enrolling over 1,200 students) in Greenville come in below the public school average; Southside Christian: $6,750 and Bob Jones Academy: $3,340 (BJA students can get room, board AND tuition for $7,840). The majority of private schools are below $7,129. Quite a few were below $4000.

The bottom line is that Reiff's "expensive schools" are his own public schools. The sad thing is the lack of value in exchange for the expense. The return on an equal investment isn't of equal value.

"Yes," you say "but public schools are less expensive to the parent." I grant that--but it really isn't free. Have you looked at your property taxes lately? It does indeed cost the general economy.

Lie number two: Considering private school vouchers is giving up on public schools. Reiff seems to think that only students currently attending private schools will take advantage of the vouchers. If that were so and we used Mark Sanford's plan, he would be half right. Sanford proposes a $3,550 credit. The public school system would still get $3,579.

If the student leaves the public school system, the institution actually gains! The student gets his thirty-five hundred dollars and thirty-five hundred dollars stays in the system. It could then be used to increase the average funds per student while at the same time reducing the expense needed to maintain the child who left.

More important, it puts more pressure on the public system to reform and raise the value for the investment. Call it tough love. I don't just keep handing my child money when she keeps blowing it on candy. She may not enjoy it. She may even say, "If you really loved me. . ." Still, I love her enough to really fix the problem--not merely patch it.

Most proponents of school choice are not interested in doing away with public education. They simply wish to improve it by creating competition. They would do so by offering people the option who typically could not afford a private education.

Come on, Mr. Reiff, tell the truth. The truth is vouchers benefit all children by allowing more than just a few children to attend quality private schools while decreasing the expense incurred upon the public system and increasing the average funds per student for those chosing to remain in that system.

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