U.S. House Congressman Joe Cunningham and State House District 99 Representative Nancy Mace – the Democrat and Republican facing each other in November for the U.S. House SC District 1 seat – share different views about Gov. McMaster’s decision to use CARES Act funds for private and charter schools. Read their policy views on the issue below.
Pandemic makes school choice more important than ever
State Rep. Nancy Mace
This is the time of year when parents and students alike anticipate and prepare to go back to school. We shop for supplies, perhaps some new clothes, we meet the teachers, and we dig in for a year of learning and fun. And we’re usually waiting in anticipation for that tax-free shopping day.
This year is very different, as it has been in many aspects of our lives.
This year many of us don’t know if or when our schools will return to normal. Will they be virtual? Part time? Full time? Should I be worried about sending my children back to school? What will their year and their learning look like? How can I work and school my children at home?
This uncertainty is running head-first into a government monopoly over education and its funding. It doesn’t matter much what parents and kids think. The decisions for your local school will be made by government officials and, in some other states, by unions.
Now, more than ever, this is wrong.
We should take this moment in time to stand up and say, there is a better way.
South Carolina has many wonderful public schools. We also have many great charter schools, private schools and a legion of homeschooling parents. I believe the time has come to change the way we think about how we fund education, and how we allow parents to determine where their kids are educated.
As a mother, I know when parents only have one choice, they have no choices.
But school choice is meaningless without choice in funding.
That’s why I’m supporting multiple proposals in Columbia and Washington that support private-school choice. Gov. Henry McMaster is using $32 million in COVID relief funds to offer private-school choice grants in our state. These are one-time scholarships for low-income students to attend a private school in 2020 if they wish.
Many families already have that option, but low-income students and parents are left out and forced into schools that are not performing well or even adequately or simply do not work for them.
I also applaud U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who recently introduced the School Choice Now Act, which provides $5 billion in scholarship aid to allow people to use for the private school of their choice, along with provisions ensuring use for homeschooling.
I also support legislation whereby all federal dollars are provided to parents, not education bureaucrats. In this scenario, parents decide which school receives your tax dollars, not the federal government, not your ZIP code, not your income level. Parents are free
to choose the public, charter, private or home schooling situation that works best for their family. This is especially needed during these difficult times.
As a single working mother of two school-age children, I know the challenges virtual or part-time school would cause many households, including my own. I also know many parents who do not want to send their children to school because they worry about health and safety issues. Imagine if those federal dollars helped you educate your children at home or supported virtual or home school with additional resources outside traditional school.
We should make it easier for parents to make these educational decisions. We can help parents get their children back to school, or help them home school or virtual school, or whatever choice they make for their children.
Our congressman, Joe Cunningham, doesn’t agree. He tweeted his opposition to Gov. McMaster’s plan. In other words, he wants to deny parents and children the best educational opportunities and outcomes during the largest, most unprecedented crisis of our lifetime.
This is what I call a colossal failure of leadership, and an example of being beholden to special interests and government bureaucrats instead of working for parents and students. It makes no sense.
During a pandemic, public funds belong in public schools
U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham
In March, as COVID-19 became a full-fledged public health and economic crisis, Congress worked together to pass bipartisan legislation that offered a lifeline to Americans. The CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump, delivered immediate relief to working
families, small businesses struggling to stay afloat, desperate Americans who had been laid off, and health care professionals working to keep their neighbors safe.
The CARES Act was by no means perfect. One of Congress’ chief responsibilities is to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money, so I’ve urged strong oversight and transparency on how tax dollars are spent and even voted against COVID-19 legislation that was not sufficiently targeted. I’ve demanded changes to some provisions of the CARES Act, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which were easily manipulated by large corporations and wealthy community associations. But passage of this bipartisan
legislation represented recognition by Congress and the President that the dire consequences of this pandemic required a level of cooperation rare in our partisan political system.
That is why I was particularly disappointed to see Gov. McMaster announce his plan to spend $32 million of CARES Act funds on “tuition grants” for South Carolina’s private schools, which have already received somewhere between $30 and $70 million through the PPP. According to analysis by the Post and Courier, that breaks down to an average of $1,240 for each of South Carolina’s 50,000 private-school students and only $560 for each of the 780,000 students in public schools.
I am proud of our numerous stellar private schools and the exceptional education they offer Lowcountry students. But I cannot support diverting public funds to private schools, especially at a much higher rate than we are helping our public schools. This move by the governor is little more than a backdoor way for the taxpayer to subsidize private schools – and during a pandemic, no less.
Issues with voucher systems aside, this plan may very well allow a small percentage of students to leave our public-school system and enroll in private schools. But it will do nothing for the large percentage of our children in public schools who could be left behind.
It is unacceptable to siphon taxpayer money out of public schools and into the hands of private institutions that benefit few and leave our underfunded education system with even less resources as they attempt to manage the immense challenges of this pandemic.
McMaster’s $32 million for tuition grants would come from $48 million in CARES Act funding designated for education relief. While the legislature has given him discretion over how this funding is used, we must question the wisdom of using two-thirds of the public funds towards private schools which cater to 6% of our total students.
Last month, I hosted a listening session with Lowcountry educators to hear directly from them regarding school reopening plans. As we discussed what would be needed to keep our children and teachers safe and the challenges associated with virtual learning, I was inspired by their commitment to our young people. They were all accustomed to buying extra supplies for their students with their personal money due to budget cuts. Many had already accepted it was likely they would have to pay for personal protective equipment out of their own pockets as well. In light of these stark realities, we cannot responsibly allow our funding for public schools to be drained any further.
I am proud to be the product of public schools. Our public-school system is one of America’s greatest equalizers. In the face of this pandemic, we cannot allow our public funds to be diverted towards private institutions and away from where they can do the most good.