Since the administration of former Governor Richard Riley, South Carolina Democrats have enjoyed the upper hand when it comes to education issues. The late Carroll Campbell and former Governor David Beasley all but danced to the tune of better public education that South Carolina Democrats were known for. That has changed. Some blame political fatigue, others blame big outside money that South Carolina does not have the stomach to hold ethically accountable. Whatever the said reason, education is about to change in South Carolina, and probably for the worse.
Let’s be clear. Skippy and Mitsy down on the one the islands will love Haley’s tuition tax credit plan straight from the Howard Rich world. It will help them make the Volvo payments with private school tuition tax credits that subsidize the private school little Skippy goes to with public tax money. Skippy and Mitsy will be thrilled. But, such a tax payer subsidy of private schools will not have help the people most in need in South Carolina’s underachieving belt.
Why? Well, its is simple. In schools that have the lowest performance, the students in them are the children of parents who are on the low end of the economic spectrum. A single mom of two working two jobs to make ends meet can’t afford private school tuition in the first place to get the tax credit. It is a disconnect from the reality that people face to think that they can.
Now, there is a school of thought, so to speak on those parents and children that says, “forget them.” In that mindset, Skippy got his, and if his maid can’t get hers, well her children were meant to clean his house, too. The second school of thought is actually more troubling. It is filled by people who have no idea how people who are in poor performing schools really live. Those folks actually believe in the idea of choice through tax credits. They actually believe that such will do good, and as well meaning as they are in being caught up in catchwords, they are oblivious to how things in the real world work.
Democrats have a huge blame in this situation. For far too long, they have been on the defensive about teacher pay and the status quo, all but beholden to the SCEA and other liberal points of view on education. As such, they spend their time defending liberal ideals without considering how tuition tax credits on education under the Haley plan attacks the heart of the idea of conservative government.
Here is how it does. First, in the midst of a state budget crisis, the tuition tax credit plan virtually becomes a big government subsidy to private schools. The state treasury will have dollars taken from it as parents and corporations get tax credits to prop up private schools that otherwise would not be able to compete without such government help. If you think that welfare, farm subsidies, and corporate subsidies are not conservative, think about the millions that will flow from the public to prop up otherwise non-competitive private schools. It is a common sense argument that liberals will not make, because they are afraid to.
Perhaps one reason liberals are afraid to make that argument is that they know, through tuition credits or grants, they can make private K-12 schools quasi public like they did colleges through a similar system. Just look at what happened to colleges in this state. It was the ultimate big government takeover. A long line of legal cases opened the door for tax credits or grants to bring in government regulation. So, while Skippy and Mitsy might get some help on the Volvo payment, little Skippy just might have to attend school with some folks they never wanted him to go to school with. Conservatives seem unable to see two steps down the road on this type of thing.
Of course, the tax credits will take money out of the general fund, and makes things like paying for state troopers even harder to do in this economic climate. Further, it will take money away from public education and the people who are at the bottom. Deficits will balloon. Those people at the bottom, who will not have the money to pay tuition to pay to get a tax credit on, will be in lower funded public schools, likely resulting in them being products of society we have to spend law enforcement and social service money on.
There is were the vicious cycle begins. Less money for public education and law enforcement creates more social unrest. So, while little Skippy might graduate with honors from some private high school while his parents make the Volvo payment, little Skippy enters a world with more social unease, which chases off economic opportunities. Businesses simply will not relocate to South Carolina, no matter what individual tax breaks local and state government gives them, if the workforce is unruly and uneducated. A handful of elites will not be able to pay for the order that they desire.
Such is what happens when big government, no matter how conservative it might call itself, gets in the business of subsidizing private entities such as private schools in the market place. The private school tuition tax credit plan begs several questions about what is next. Will people opt out of local police and fire services for private ones? Will government give tax credits to spend money at certain grocery stores? Where does the government intrusion giving public money to private endeavors end? Shall we all get a lobbyist for our pet issue to get the public to pay for?
Indeed, that is the argument that South Carolina Democrats have missed about this state. If they had the guts to stand and call private school subsidies with public money for what it was, they might have a chance in defeating the effort. Instead, they seem all too eager to miss that argument and let South Carolina state government become a big government in education that they can control through the courts. The Republicans seem too ignorant and drunk with campaign money to understand what they are actually doing.
There is a model to see where such things come to fruition. It is found in Brazil and other South American countries. There, government took care of the elite with public tax money only to find itself and its people virtually broken. Big government, be it for the poor, or the rich, simply does not work, no matter how much money some guy in New York pays people to argue otherwise. South Carolina is not Brazil, or India for that matter.