Normally this time of year, my son and I are on the hunt for new shoes and the perfect pencil pouch. This year, we are struggling with masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.
Like most parents, our family is wrestling with decisions about our work schedules, our vulnerable parents, and our child’s academic and social needs. All of our energy is focused on supporting students, teachers and our community during this unprecedented crisis.
That is why I was shocked and saddened when U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Henry McMaster and S.C. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, took advantage of this crisis to declare war on our public schools with their coordinated effort to move tax dollars allocated for public schools into private schools.
Under the guise of giving parents a choice, deceitful Republicans are trying to divert millions of our tax dollars to subsidize elite private schools. They argue that low-income students and parents deserve the choice to opt out of their poorly-performing public school. I have bad news for them. Research proves that vouchers for private schools will not improve educational outcomes for students.
Forget the fact that vouchers won’t even pay for the basic tuition at a local private school. Let’s talk about book fees, uniform costs, fieldtrip fees, transportation costs and the loss of income for the parent who no longer has access to before- and after-school childcare. Most students will stay in their neighborhood public school because a private school education is still out of reach.
Those who can scrape together the additional money to add to the government assistance will have to navigate the complicated world of evaluating private schools. These schools do not have to meet the same education standards as our public schools and are not legally required to provide accommodations to students with special needs.
In South Carolina, the money to pay for the tax credit comes directly from the budget of the public school the student would have attended. Tax money collected for public schools which are supposed to benefit the entire community will instead benefit individual students and private businesses. This weakens our public schools, and it does not guarantee individual students will have access to a better education.
Since 2008, South Carolina House members have not fully funded the Base Student Cost. They use a loophole in the law to avoid appropriating the actual cost of providing every student with even a minimally adequate education. If the voucher/choice legislation that has been proposed passes, the state legislature will take even more money away from our cash-strapped public schools and jeopardize the education system responsible for over 90 percent of our students.
Do you know what would make education choices easier for parents? Public schools that deliver more than a minimally-adequate education for every student.
Let’s try that first.
Jen Gibson, who lives in a city of Charleston part of Berkeley County, is the Democratic nominee for S.C. House District 99 in Berkeley and Charleston counties.