Guns, unions and the Confederacy: meet Catherine Templeton - your next governor?
Republican candidate for governor Catherine Templeton said Tuesday that S.C parents should be able to spend public education dollars on the schools of their choice, including private schools.
Templeton, who is seeking the GOP nomination in a crowded June primary, said the state's public schools are worse than those in 49 other states and are failing to prepare students for S.C. jobs. That's why parents should be able to spend taxpayer dollars on other options, including private schools and homeschooling, she said.
"Our education system is dead last in the country, and so people from other states are coming in to South Carolina for work because we are not preparing our children to support themselves," the Mount Pleasant attorney and former state agency chief said at a news conference announcing her plan.
"It's time to bring back ... shop class. It's time to let our teachers teach. It's time to focus our resources on our children."
Facing four other Republicans in June's GOP primary, Templeton is staking out a claim on the private-school choice issue. While endorsed by most GOP candidates, private-school choice last enthusiastically was supported by a S.C. governor when Mark Sanford was in office.
Templeton's rivals for the GOP nomination for governor — S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster of Columbia, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Williamsburg and Greenville businessman John Warren — also have expressed support for school choice.
Bryant, for instance, has been pitching the idea of universal school choice on the campaign trail, even though he acknowledges it is a long shot to pass even with a GOP-controlled General Assembly.
In recent years, the Republicans that control South Carolina's State House — from the governor's office to the state Senate to the S.C. House — have opted for smaller victories in the campaign to use public education dollars to pay private-school tuition. That incremental approach followed a contentious debate over whether giving private-school vouchers to parents would bleed the state's underfunded public schools of valuable resources.
Historically, Democrats have opposed sending taxpayer money to private schools., and Templeton's move to push the issue into the campaign's spotlight could make it a major debating point in the November general election.
By pushing a "universal school choice" plan, Templeton is tapping into the rhetoric of that voucher battle, last waged when Sanford, a vocal private-school choice supporter, was governor from 2003-'11.
Templeton's proposal is thin on details explaining how, exactly, she would accomplish giving families universal school choice, allowing public-school dollars to follow students to the school options of their choice. But her campaign manager, R.J. May, said all options — from private-school vouchers to tax credits for homeschooled children — are on the table.
No new money is needed, Templeton said.
"We have the money that we need to educate our children. We're just not spending it on the children," she said, pointing to the state's eight small school districts with fewer than 1,000 students and high administrative costs.
Templeton also said her school-choice plan would open up more opportunities to students to attend public magnet and charter schools.
"The demand for alternatives to public school, until we get our school system worked out, have only increased," she said.
Templeton said school-choice policies in Charleston County have led to far more demand for seats than are available in the public school system's Montessori, magnet and charter schools.
Lt. Gov. Bryant has been a big proponent of school choice in South Carolina and was a leading supporter of the state's first, narrow private school-choice program. That program created a new tax credit for donations made to help students with disabilities pay for private-school tuition.
Gov. McMaster has not called for universal school choice or policies that would allow it. However, he does support private-school choice, including the state's existing tax credit that pays for private-school tuition grants for students with disabilities. He also spoke at this year's National School Choice Week rally at the State House.
McMaster also supports expanding the state's public-school choice options. In his 2018-19 executive budget, he proposes boosting spending on public charter schools by $18.8 million and adding $2.5 million for a transportation system to increase students' access to those schools.