Like I imagine many of you, I have been watching with some disgust the impact of a lack of true oversight and accountability on our state. It turns out that the Office of Regulatory Staff, the so-called utilities watchdog, has in fact been more of a lap dog.
And while it has been dozing, SCANA subsidiary SCE&G and Santee Cooper have run up a $9 billion tab that you and I are paying and will likely continue to pay for the defunct V.C. Summer nuclear power plants. Moreover, we’ll never see a single kilowatt hour of electricity for our $9 billion.
On the other side of town, Solicitor David Pascoe has been unearthing all kinds of evidence of alleged wrongdoing on the part of the inhabitants of our State House. You can smell it from Charleston. Good for him.
But these aren’t the only battles being fought for accountability on your behalf.
The Education Oversight Committee and the S.C. Public Charter School District both have the temerity to suggest that schools be held accountable for results and be required to produce a high-quality education for the children of this state.
As tasked by the Legislature, the Education Oversight Committee has been engaged in a three-year process to revise the state’s public education accountability system. All the while, schools have had a three-year hiatus from being rated. The committee’s work has not been eagerly supported by the education establishment, and understandably so. The truth is embarrassing. And now the education establishment is scrambling to make it stop.
South Carolina’s education standards rank 43rd in the nation in terms of rigor and quality. Last year fewer than half of all third- through eighth-graders — white, black, Hispanic, well to do and low income — met the standards in English/language arts (including reading) and math. These are the 3Rs, folks. We might not be able to make children proficient in calculus or physics or Latin, but we sure as shootin’ ought to be able to produce proficiency in the fundamental skills of our native language and in basic arithmetic.
You paid $9.5 billion last year alone for those results, and that doesn’t include money you paid to build new schools or for debt service. Add that $9.5 billion to the $9 billion for incompetence in building nuclear power plants, and soon you’re talking about real money. Your money.
There is a movement afoot to disestablish the EOC, the education watchdog. The hens want hens guarding the henhouse, to keep the bad news quiet. I would agree that some changes are needed at the EOC, but not this kind of changes. It needs to bark more and bark louder, and it needs some bite.
We don’t need fewer watchdogs. We need more of them, especially on behalf of our children.
Similarly, the Public Charter School District has drawn the ire of some of its schools. The district thinks its schools ought to successfully educate all of their students. Refreshing. When that hasn’t happened, the district has moved to revoke the charters of those crummy schools. Good for it.
The schools facing charter revocation are not happy. So they want to move to a new sponsor that doesn’t have an accountability process. The state district is not OK with simply allowing failed schools to move down the road and continue bad performance. It knows that children will get the short end of the stick.
Predictably, legislators have been drawn into the discussion, and there is some talk about disestablishing the charter school district as well. Do you see a pattern here? You don’t want your charter school held accountable for results. So, you cry foul and move to disestablish the overseeing body. You don’t like the special prosecutor digging into the muck and mire of the State House, so you try to remove him. The attorney general tried that. People don’t like the EOC calling a spade a spade about the failures of public education, so they try to get rid of that body. Some school districts and the Department of Education are working on that.
If the news is bad, kill the messenger. If the watchdog’s barking is embarrassing, do away with the watchdog.
Folks, we don’t need fewer watchdogs. We need more of them, especially on behalf of our children.
Mr. Butzon is a longtime advocate for quality education for all children and former director of the Charleston Education Network; contact him at email@example.com.