BY TODD SCHOLL
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This piece was inspired by a post made by South Carolina's Senate Republican Caucus. In that post, Majority Leader, Shane Massey, was quoted saying, "To no one’s surprise, the status quo, education empire is suing to limit educational freedom in South Carolina." This was his response to the news that The SCEA, along with the NAACP and ELC, will be suing over South Carolina's unconstitutional voucher program.
So....let's start there.
South Carolina Republicans have controlled the SC Senate, House, and Governorship for 20+ years. The last three Superintendents of Education have all been Republicans. A status quo does exist, but it CLEARLY has been created by the GOP.
For decades, it has been the dream of many Republicans to privatize public education. It must be understood that, philosophically, these people fundamentally believe that the free market is the solution to every problem, so, in their minds, government schools are inherently worse than those that are or would be created by private interests. If they would make this argument, at least they would arguing in good faith.
But they don't. They dress up their schemes by claiming they are providing "choice" and "freedom" to students of poverty who are "stuck in failing public schools." To quote them directly, "These scholarships offer hope to students stuck in consistently underperforming schools and give children with special needs, who are often underserved, the life-changing freedom to seek advancement at private schools with specially trained teachers. Education scholarships enable students to move from one public school district to another, and they will undoubtedly spur the creation of new schools in rural parts of South Carolina where choices are lacking."
This is shockingly disingenuous to anyone who truly understands their game plan.
Firstly, there are no requirements for private schools to accept students with disabilities. There are no requirements for private schools to abstain from discrimination. There are no requirements for private schools to provide transportation, breakfasts, or lunches. There are no mechanisms for assessing the efficacy of these private schools at the same time public schools must endure endless standardized testing, "report cards," and other harmful policies enforced in the name of "accountability." Many rural areas do not even have private schools. And in many SC communities, the only private option is a Christian one. So exactly where is the "choice?" Where is the so-called "freedom?"
And where is the data to suggest that these private options are, in fact, producing better outcomes than public options?
Robert Pianta, professor of early childhood education and founding director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia researched this question. His conclusion? “When you compare children who went to private school (for an average of six years) with those who only went to public school, any apparent benefits of private schooling – higher test scores, for example – are entirely attributable to parents’ education and income,” he says. “The fact that they went to private school does not account for any differences we might see.”
The notion that competition will inherently drive innovation and improvement in the public education sector is flawed. It is flawed because we aren't producing better cellphones or automobiles. We are working with human beings, and public schools, unlike private schools, must take all students in. Private schools can handpick their students. How can any meaningful comparison be made between them without taking accounting for a multitude of factors, including socioeconomic backgrounds. It would be like comparing a varsity football program, with tryouts, to a recreational football program that allows every athlete to play.
But to folks driven by profit, the process of education is just another business. Profits, or in this case, test scores, are to be maximized by any means necessary. This mindset ultimately objectifies students and their teachers. In their minds, the only real purpose of an education is to fit young people into the capitalist system. It ties their worth to how well they can serve this economic engine of America. And it aims to perform this job as cheaply as possible. (Side note: This does not bode well for the future of education as AI becomes more powerful.)
With the goal of turning public schools over to private interests, the GOP has been INTENTIONALLY inflicting harm on public schools. They have done this by underfunding schools for over a decade. They have IGNORED the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, STOKED public distrust of public school educators by branding them "Marxists," "indoctrinators," and "groomers." And they have stoked fear and distrust by promoting false narratives around CRT and "wokeism."
If they were serious, at all, about improving public schools, they would have LISTENED to educators who have given them numerous ways to do so. But their utter lack of respect for those in the profession has been apparent. Teachers is South Carolina endured years with no pay raises. As company profits reached record levels, teacher salaries lagged behind other professions and has utterly failed to keep up with the rate of inflation.
For perspective, consider that a starting teacher salary in South Carolina is $40,000, less than a third of what a car wash manager makes at Buc-ees. But in the same post from above, they brag how they have increased teacher pay by over 40% in the past six years, an intentionally misleading calculation based upon increasing base teacher salary, which did not impact the vast majority of teachers in South Carolina since many districts were already paying above that amount, and base pay increases did not always translate to increased for veteran educators.
To be fair, BOTH parties are responsible for systemic problems in education. Leaders from both sides of the aisle are reinforced the test and punish culture by setting up arbitrary measures of success based upon standardized test scores that convince the American public that public schools are a failure. By making these tests the primary metric for determining success, they have killed the passion of countless educators and squashed the natural curiosity of countless students.
And NOW? SC Republicans want to convince YOU that they have the answer. All we need to do is create competition by handing out gift cards to families so they can send their kids to ANY school they want with no means of ensuring that these tax dollars are yielding better results, without ensuring the protection of civil rights for ALL students, without ANY accountability.
Imagine if we were to apply the same logic to other public services provided by the government. Why not gut public libraries by giving families gift cards to Barnes and Noble to go buy whatever they want with zero accountability? Want a cookie, magazine, board game? Go for it! Freedom! Liberty! How about dismantling SC State Parks by giving us all gift cards to Home Depot so we can buy whatever we cant for our backyard? Go get a grill, some flowers, or a pink flamingo! See what un accountable competition can do? It makes absolutely no sense to send PUBLIC tax dollars to PRIVATE entities.
In complete control of SC government for 20+ years, SC Republicans have PURPOSEFULLY caused damage to our system of public education so that they can implement their private school voucher schemes. And they attempt to dress up this pig by claiming they are doing it for students in poverty, which is utter bullshit.
If they TRULY care about students in poverty, why don't they ADDRESS POVERTY? Why don't they support universal healthcare and tuition-free college? Why don't they address growing income inequality fairly tax the rich to improve socioeconomic conditions for all?
If they GENUINELY CARE about improving public education, why don't they INCREASE TEACHER PAY, END THE TEST AND PUNISH PARADIGM, AND FULLY FUND PUBLIC SCHOOLS?
No. They will not take accountability. They will not actually do ANYTHING to address poverty or improve public education because their Ayn Randian fever dream is to cut the government out of almost everything, with the exception of your body and bedroom, and let the free market take over. They will meet their goal when government no longer has a hand in educating the next generation.
Instead of strengthening public schools, they will demonize the very people working every day to ACTUALLY fight for public school educators and their students. They will attempt to convince you that our union just want to maintain "the status quo," that we are an "education empire" that opposes "educational freedom."
It might be useful to consider the definition of psychological projection here. From Choosing Therapy, "Psychological projection is a defense mechanism that involves attributing one’s own feelings, desires, or qualities to another person, group, animal, or object. For example, the classroom bully who teases other children for crying but is quick to cry is an example of projection. They’re projecting their own sense of shame and weakness for crying onto others as a means of self-protection."
What MUST be understood by everyone is this. This voucher scheme is just the BEGINNING. They will mask their true intentions by continuing to claim vouchers are the savior for children in poverty, for students with disabilities, for families who just want the "freedom to choose." As the voucher program expands, public school funding will be cut and public trust in public schools will be undermined. They will keep repeating destructive rhetoric and underfunding public schools until they are completely dismantled. And once that takes place, they will start advocating for the state to stop funding the vouchers because why should THEY be taxed to educate other people's children? Why should we give education "handouts?" They will cry, "THIS IS SOCIALISM!"
And we will be left with a for-profit education system that functions very similarly to our for-profit healthcare system. Rather than being able to access a free, public education, families will be stuck with a bill, just like their medical bills, to access decent schools. And the gap between those that have and those that have not will continue to widen.
We CANNOT allow this to happen. Let them attack us. Let them call us names. We MUST call them out because WE are the ones who care about these kids. WE are the ones who stand in the way of this attempt to destroy democracy and replace it with an autocratic theocracy. Their pretense of caring is just a trick to get us all to vote against our own interests. Underneath that pretense, they are driven by a philosophy that has always valued profits over people.
Please stand with us. Please stand with future generations of South Carolina children who deserve access to a fully funded, high quality education.