I had many disagreements with our current state superintendent of education, Molly Spearman. However at the end of the day, I believed that she supported the basic tenets of public education and knew its importance. She was a former educator who respected teachers. The current candidate for the Republican Party, Ellen Weaver, is void of that balance and moderation. Never being an educator herself, it is likely she will take a more hostile position towards teachers’ concerns and rights. She is also a top champion of school privatization.
She states openly on her website that her plans include “creating school choice scholarships … allowing tax credits for homeschool expenses, growing high-quality online course access programs, and allowing new innovations like learning pods and micro-schools to develop without bureaucratic red tape.” The school choice scholarships she refers to are vouchers, though she will not say that word.
These policies will have a multitude of negative effects on public education. If it is the same as in some other states, it will be a boon for private education, which may likely increase their rates with taxpayer-funded subsidies coming in. The reality is these elite institutions will still primarily serve the wealthiest and most privileged populations in the state. What it will also do is continue to create greater educational inequality. Those poor individuals who are left behind in a gutted-out public education system will be struggling with fewer resources, greater teacher turnover and a host of other social problems as more privileged students will have left the public school system.
These policies will create an even greater divide both by socioeconomic status and race. Of course, in places like Charleston, especially on the peninsula and in North Charleston, this is already a reality. However, in many places in the state like where I taught in Greenville County or where my children go to school in Dorchester District II, schools are still relatively integrated due to less of the corrosion power of certain types of school choice. Weaver would take the already problematic issues of school choice and segregation and maximize it to a disturbing degree.
In the end, this attack on public education does not just mean lower quality public schools. It does irreparable damage to our whole democratic republic and social fabric. Despite all its flaws, the public school system is still one of the few places where people of diverse races, socio-economic statuses, religions and political ideologies can come together. This is vitally important in a society that has become increasingly polarized, especially due to the often-caustic realities of social media. It is the last public location where students and families can actually come together. In Weaver’s vision, this would not happen. The Catholics will go to their school, the Baptists will go to their school, the non-religious will go to the public school or to a non-aligned school. Republicans will find a school that goes with their ideology and Democratic parents will try to find one for their children as well. The wealthy and the poor will have little contact. That is how the democracy dies.
I plead with you to consider the damaging effect that Weaver could have on education even if you are going to vote for Republicans for other offices. Please consider voting for Lisa Ellis for the state superintendent of education. With a Republican legislature, Lisa will get few of her more progressive ideas passed. However, she may be able to stem the tide of this privatization, inequality and segregation that damages our state as a whole, erodes our social fabric, and leaves the most vulnerable students in even more precarious situations.
McCorkle is a former Greenville high school teacher who teaches educational foundations and social studies education at an area college. He lives in Summerville.
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