Sunday, April 20, 2008

Education: School Choice and the 'voucher' issue in the words of South Carolina Governor and Possible McCain VP Mark Sanford

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, a half-page spread in the opinion section was devoted to interviewing Republican Mark Sanford, current governor of South Carolina and possible VP in a McCain administration. The interview/column is here. The article cites Sanford's support for 'school choice' -- vouchers handed directly to students that are redeemable in higher performing schools, meaning that students are not stuck attending poor schools if they don't want to be. It has its critics, but the voucher idea is here to stay, at least as an option. Why? Because people on all political sides are critical of public schools. As a result, it will be increasingly likely that local and state levels will turn to something to reform k-12 education. Vouchers should be in the mix in many locales across the country.

Vouchers could also be a possible avenue of national reform, especially if thoughtful, experienced voices like Gov. Sanford gain national office. Check out this excerpt from the WSJ article:

Perhaps the hardest thing to reform in any state is education. And in South Carolina it is more difficult than elsewhere, for two reasons. The first is that the state's history of racial segregation ensures that any school choice debate will be charged with emotion. The second is because local politics drives resources and attention to a limited number of schools in politically powerful districts. The results: a 50% dropout rate, SAT and ACT scores among the lowest in the nation, and a wide achievement gap between black and white students.

Nonetheless, Mr. Sanford has enacted a voucher system for prekindergarten students, created a statewide charter school district (local districts won't approve new charters), and has pushed for, though not won, vouchers for nearly every child in the state.

"My point is," Mr. Sanford explains, "you go to rural South Carolina and you say, 'Look guys, the big voting blocs in our state are Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. That's where the voters are. So guess where the money is always going to go. You can say that we have some form of enlightened new leadership that will send it to Hampton County or Allendale or someplace else, but that's not the way the system works. . . . So if you ever want to get to parity, go to a one coupon per child system, spend it where you like in the state, and you can get there. But you can't get there this way.' That's why I've become such an ardent supporter of school choice."

Sanford makes his case for vouchers in behalf of the little guy. While any specifics right now are unclear, 'school choice' is an argument that will be increasingly difficult to dismiss in the years to come.

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