Last week, one of the last statewide offices was decided when the S.C. Elections Commission certified that the Democratic candidate Jim Rex defeated Republican Karen Floyd by a razor-thin margin of 455 votes.

Rex quickly announced the formation of a 74-member transition team that would include former two-term governor and Clinton secretary of education Dick Riley.

Five subcommittees plan to address topics of equitable funding for the state’s 1,100 public schools, developing innovations to better deliver education, expanding system accountability, and boosting the morale of South Carolina’s public school teachers.

According to Rex, voters rejected the idea of tax credits and vouchers to subsidize the private school educations of children who would be attending those schools anyway and thumbed their noses at the financial contributions of out-of-state school choice advocates.

He may be on to something. Most of the counties that voted for Rex have few private school options available to parents. But, The Eye would be quick to caution Rex to not define “mandate” in the same manner as Gov. Mark Sanford (R).

Besides, there’s bigger fish to fry for South Carolina’s public school students as bad news was all over the place last week.

A nonprofit education foundation based in Oregon released a report reinforcing that the test score gap between African-American and Hispanic students and whites is not improving.

The Northwest Evaluation Association report looked at national test results for reading and math administered to 500,000 students in 24 states from fall 2004 to spring 2005 and found that black and Hispanic students in junior high school perform only at an average level to that of whites. Asians performed as well or better than whites. Minority students also gave ground to their white counterparts over their summers.

Congress is set to debate the reauthorization of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law in 2007. The 2001 law was designed to close the test score gaps between minority and white students.

NCLB requires states, districts, and schools to report annual test results for all ethnic groups and to demonstrate improvements in weak areas. Schools whose data does not improve face monetary sanctions.

That’ll learn ’em, mused The Eye.

It’s no secret that minority children enter kindergarten with poorer number and letter recognition skills than white kids — to deny or mitigate this is being disingenuous.

While NCLB does provide money for tutoring for unsuccessful schools, educators and parents complain that the law does nothing to secure financing to turn those schools around.

So, here we are with a new state Secretary of Education and a governor starting a second term who are both facing the gorilla in the room that is public education.

What The Eye hopes is that these knuckleheads can drop this voucher/tax credit nonsense that serves only to obscure the long reach of racism and poverty in South Carolina.

To deny or mitigate this reach is not only disingenuous, but also is to commit the sin of omission against one’s neighbor.

God or no god, that’s a moral failure and South Carolina has had enough of this in its history.

Providing even adequate funding for public schools and actually doing something about poverty in the state is an investment in the future that’s not going to cost individuals the lion’s share of their personal wealth.

Hell’s bells, it may even enhance one’s portfolio.