School Choice Advocates Win in South Carolina, Utah

Published December 1, 2006

Though conservative voters woke up to a newly “blue” world on November 8, the results of the midterm election could mean two states will soon have more school choice.

In South Carolina, where a sweeping school choice bill that would have provided a mixture of tax credits and vouchers for low-income and special-needs children failed to pass in the state House of Representatives by only seven votes earlier this year, school choice was such a hot topic it even permeated the race for state treasurer.

“The incumbent treasurer slammed [Republican challenger] Thomas [Ravenel] for supporting school choice because he said it would decimate the treasury,” explained Randy Page, president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a conservative lobbying group in Charleston. “He sent an e-mail to teachers across the state saying they need to support him to keep public schools solvent.”

Tight Races

Ravenel ousted his opponent, as did five other Republicans in races for various state House seats. Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who has championed school choice over the past several years, retained his post, as did state Reps. Jim Harrison (R-Columbia) and Tracy Edge (R-North Myrtle Beach).

Twenty-four hours after the polls closed, only about 217 votes separated Democrat Jim Rex from Republican challenger and strong school choice advocate Karen Floyd in the race for state school superintendent, with Rex leading.

That race, as well as three others featuring strong school choice advocates, all Republicans–Andre Bauer for lieutenant governor, Danny Stacy for House District 29, and Wallace Scarborough for House District 115–were too close to call at press time, headed for automatic recounts by November 15.

“It was a great night,” Page said. “We’ve been saying the question isn’t whether [school choice] is going to happen, but when. The sooner it happens, the better off children in South Carolina will be.”

Level Field

In Utah, where a school voucher bill for low-income students was narrowly scuttled in the state legislature earlier this year, choice candidates gained five seats in the state House, two on the state school board, and one in the Senate, according to Nancy Pomeroy, communications director of the advocacy group Parents for Choice in Education (PCE).

“We’ve been doing the happy dance all night,” Pomeroy said the morning after the election. “We think it changes significantly our ability to get legislation through. We now have a great chance of getting a bill passed this year that will greatly help low-income families.”

Though the gains don’t give choice advocates a majority in Utah, they help level a playing field that “has been dominated by the Utah Education Association” teachers union, Pomeroy said.

PCE hopes to use the new officials to press forward on all kinds of education reform, not just vouchers.

“We’re going to champion merit pay for teachers, having a way to get rid of teachers that aren’t doing a good job, and the 65 percent solution,” which ensures 65 percent of schools’ budgets goes directly to classroom instruction, Pomeroy said. “When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.