Letters to the Editor

Give educational choice to parents

"While I breathe, I hope." It's one of South Carolina's mottos, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Like parents everywhere, I join South Carolina's parents in wanting the best for our children. We pin our hopes on God, on hard work, on belief in the goodness of America and South Carolina. And we hold out hope, hope against hope, for our political figures.

The most promising hope begins with a sound childhood education. That's why so many parents are now saying the Republican candidate for governor has let them down. They're disappointed that our candidate removed what is a key piece of the GOP's official platform. Instead she now says parental choice of schools - the freedom to choose schools - is not her focus.

Certainly the other pieces are there, and they are the right pieces - streamlining the bureaucracy, emphasizing vocational training, reforming our needlessly complex and wasteful funding formulas. But for thousands of parents the freedom to choose a different school means the freedom to at last see their children's best hopes embodied.

We can meet many of our most urgent social, political and economic challenges by first meeting our students' needs. A wonderful education not only promises opportunity, but can bring true freedom. Quality education opens minds. It's inherently liberating. It affords possibility, invites opportunity, equalizes playing fields and forever pays dividends.

There are far-reaching problems in our education system. Some blame a lack of money, but we spend $11,372 per child, per year on public education. Some say we need more management, but our state has 85 school districts with entrenched administrative bureaucracies. Still others point to inefficiencies, and here they have a point. Only 44 cents of each education dollar manage to reach the classroom for instruction.

There is even more disagreement about solutions, but our shortfalls are not for lack of trying. We've had the Education Finance Act (1977), the Education Improvement Act (1984), the Charter School Act (1996), the Education Accountability Act (1998), the Education Lottery Act (2001) and the Education and Economic Development Act (2005). All provided more money and more programming, as if growing the bureaucracy would solve things. And still, the gap between prosperous and poor, between urban and rural, between South Carolina's children and those in competing states, continues and grows.

Let's stop tinkering around the edges. Let's stop throwing money at the problem. Let us instead finally bring real relief, real reform, lasting and meaningful change.

School choice helps families afford independent and home school expenses and is a catalyst for serious reform. It saves public school money, reduces public school class size and directly addresses inequality by giving low- and middle-income families the choice that others already have. It also can let children into a great classroom where the curriculum and style match the learning style best suited for them.

Choice for parents doesn't depend on school districts to fix themselves. Parents' rightful voice in their children's education - in effect their children's freedom - is restored. Families, not bureaucrats, choose the best school for their sons and daughters.

If we're serious about quality in education, and equality in education, if we want schools that truly serve families and communities, then we must ensure that our leaders bring the only reform that is driven by families.

Rep. Nikki Haley has been an outspoken and eloquent advocate of meaningful education reform, and having worked with her, I know she's sincere. We're on the same team, and I want her to win. That's why I ask her to reconsider her education plan and restore parental choice to her platform.

Let us free parents to choose and free children to learn. Let us free teachers from bureaucracies and free them to teach. In doing so, we liberate a new generation and give them the best freedom of all - the freedom to succeed.

The writer, a Republican, represents District 37, which includes portions of Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton and Dorchester counties. A small businessman, he and his wife have three sons who attend public schools.