Friday, March 13, 2009
The education debate in South Carolina needs to shift
Bloggers, other pundits and politicos are bantering on about who will run for Governor, Gresham Barrett’s Congressional seat and whether or not South Carolina’s current Governor is going to run for President. Lost in the bantering is the rumor that Superintendent of Education Jim Rex will not seek re-election. Further, there seems to be no names being tossed about from either party for the seat should Rex decide not to run for re-election.
There is no shock at that. The education debate in South Carolina has been considerably “dumbed down” in recent election cycles. It started with Inez Tennenbaum’s emphasis on little kids in her races, (remember those signs with schools buses with little kids on looking out the windows?) Then, came Howard Rich and his friends and their money that paid for this and that political hack to attack public education and cry out for tuition tax credits to help middle and upper class families send their kids to private schools. The education establishment had a knee jerk reaction to that and started a vigorous defense of the status quo in K-12 public education. No wonder there are few who want to step forward and get in the middle of a debate framed on those terms.
The education debate in South Carolina needs to be reframed. While K-12 education has its importance, in these economic times, the debate needs to shift to adult education. Tens of thousands of South Carolinians need to be retrained to compete in the world’s struggling economy. Further, an adult in the home who is educated will be more likely to spur his or her child to achievement in education. A six year old can not get some training and in a year or so turn into a taxpaying worker. That same six year old will not succeed if his parents don’t value education or are not able to answer simple homework questions.
Yet, we in South Carolina are dwelling on K-12 issues and virtually ignoring the fact that education is a lifetime endeavor.
Whoever steps up to run for Superintendent of Education needs to not let the Rich crowd or the education establishment crowd define their campaign or agenda. It is time to shift the debate to things that make immediate differences in South Carolina’s economic competitiveness.
VUI has some ideas for readers to consider. First, South Carolina needs to have adult learning centers, especially in places like Allendale and Marion counties, where people are taught even the simplest of things, such as basic job skills and how to fill out a job application. Second, the lottery scholarship money needs to be made available to adult students who show achievement in higher education. For example, if a man or woman goes for a year to a Tech school or college and maintains a B average, let them have some lottery scholarship money for their next year. Third, the state needs to work with employers better and find out exactly what they need from the workforce and work to provide it.
Those are just three ideas to consider and debate. But, the debate needs to shift. If Mark Sanford and the Rich crowd got what they wanted, if parents are not educated enough to make a decision, the problem areas that drag the state down will still exist. The same is true of the education establishment crowd. If they are fully funded, but the adult at home does not care about their child’s education, or could not help their child with the homework even if they wanted to, the problems stay the same.
Adult education will have quick economic impacts and flow down to K-12 improvement. It is time our political leaders start addressing it and stop letting narrow interests define the debate.