Gov. Nikki Haley last week announced her much-anticipated plan to improve education. And, as always in these matters, there is good news and there is bad news.
The good news is that she has finally gotten around to dealing with the most important issue facing our state; the bad news is that she took only a baby step in the right direction. The phrase “day late and a dollar short” comes to mind. The reality is that it’s three years late and several hundred million dollars short.
First, the good news. Back in September, Haley came back from a trip to Germany to meet with business leaders about their bringing plants and investment to our state — so far so good. In fact I’d argue that she should be doing a lot more of these types of trips. But that aside, when she returned she announced that she had had an epiphany — like Paul on the road to Damascus, she’d been stuck by the Lord (or, rather, German investors) with a revelation.
And what was that revelation? Without an educated workforce businesses can’t create jobs.
Let me quote her directly: “Every single one of those meetings, every single one, the very first question they asked me was K-12. What’s your education?” Haley said. “That floored me. Not tax structure, not infrastructure.”
So for the last three years, Haley and her Republican friends in the legislature have been turning themselves inside out trying to find another corporate tax break or sales tax exemption they could give out when what she needed to do was focus on education — especially K-12.
If all we got out of the trip to Germany was her revelation, then we could have saved a lot of money if she had just gone to rural Allendale County and talked to hard-working single moms. There she would have learned that they make sacrifices every day trying to give their children a decent education … hoping that maybe one day it will lead to a decent job, maybe in a German manufacturing company located in South Carolina.
Haley’s revelation went way beyond just her own personal conversion; she now says that our current school system is “immoral.” Assuming that the governor’s moral principles haven’t changed in the last three years — our schools certainly haven’t — then how come something that is “immoral” today was somehow not worthy of her moral outrage except in an election year?
Some cynics might call Haley’s revelation a death bed conversion. For politicians, elections are “life-threatening episodes” and such may be the case with Haley and her upcoming election in November. My dad was a preacher and he observed many death bed conversions, most of which he said seemed to wear off pretty quick once the near-death experiences passed.
But enough on the day-late stuff; let’s move on to the dollar short.
Haley’s proposals called for spending an additional $160 million in “new” school spending. She says that the money would go for the following:
• $97 million for children in poverty
• $29 million for reading coaches
• $429 million for improving schools’ Internet bandwidth and new computing devices
• $4 million for loans to charter schools
• $750,000 to pay 10 new teachers in the Virtual School Program.
Wonderful! $160 million in “new” spending.
So, what about the $110 million in education spending she vetoed her first year alone? Or the $140 million in stimulus money for teachers that she turned down because it was “Obama money”?
With just these numbers alone, she has still put us about $90 million in education funding in the hole. And we were in bad shape to start with.
But, you say, $126 million is a big number and Haley should be congratulated for the $126 million increase. Not really — if you break it down per pupil (or what’s called “base student costs”), it’s peanuts. State law recommends that we spend about $2,700 per pupil (see “minimally adequate”). Currently, we are spending $2,101. Haley’s spending will raise that number to a $2,120.
Yep, that’s right. A whopping $19 per student increase … out of the $600 we are already short.
So that’s the bottom line here. She’s not a day late and a dollar short. She’s three years late and about $579 short per student — just to get us up to “minimally adequate.”
Yes, you say, but $126 million is still a big number. Let me give you a big number — try $3 billion. That’s the amount that Haley and her Republican-controlled legislature gave away this year — and give away every year — in sales tax exemptions and loopholes. Virtually all of which were enacted by special interest groups that hired lobbyists to get their special exemption passed.
You do the math: give away $3 thousand million to special interests, veto $110 million for education, and don’t take $140 million for teachers — and then “increase” spending by $126 million.
That is “immoral.”
Maybe Haley should go back to Germany and talk with the business executives again. Perhaps this time they could give her a revelation involving basic math.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. firstname.lastname@example.org www.SCNewDemocrats.org.