Large majority of blacks opposed to or undecided about school vouchers

Winthrop/ETV poll

COLUMBIA -- School choice could be a hot topic in the South Carolina General Assembly in January, propelled, in part, by a significant number of black South Carolinians who say they are undecided about whether the state should spend public money on private schools.

A third of black South Carolinians recently polled said they are undecided on the issue.

Nearly half of black South Carolinians, 48 percent, said they oppose vouchers. A smaller number, 18 percent, of the nearly 700 surveyed by a Winthrop/ETV poll said they favor vouchers.

The poll's findings have voucher supporters doing the math.

They say they are invigorated about their chances of gaining new support next year -- from undecided black South Carolinians -- for legislation that would allow parents to use public money to pay for private schooling.

"We are encouraged every day with the fact that new people are becoming part of this effort, particularly African-Americans," said Denver Merrill, spokesman for South Carolinians for Responsible Government.

Latoshia Manigo, a bookkeeper in Colleton County, participated in the Winthrop/ETV poll. She said she is among the 33 percent of black South Carolinians who were undecided about school vouchers.

"I didn't think I knew enough," said Manigo, 33.

Public-school supporters aren't surprised Manigo and other African-Americans said they don't know enough about vouchers to form an opinion.

"The issue is the appalling lack of quality educational environment in the state of South Carolina, be they public, private, charter or otherwise," said Marshall-Bradley, who also has taught at Benedict College, S.C. State University in and The Citadel.

State of black education

By most any measure state achievement tests, graduation rates, college entrance exam scores black S.C. students lag behind their white peers. The problem is especially dire in the poor, mostly black school districts in the counties that hug Interstate 95.

Public-school proponents say the state hasn't done enough to improve the achievement of poor, mostly black S.C. students. Eight S.C. school districts are suing the state, arguing the state hasn't provided enough money to build modern facilities, hire qualified teachers and provide poor students with the early childhood education they need to ensure success in public schools.

While the poor, rural schools want more money, voucher proponents balk at that solution.

Growing dissatisfaction

The Winthrop/ETV poll found dissatisfaction among black S.C. respondents with the public-school system. About 28 percent of those surveyed said they think S.C. schools are doing a good or excellent job of educating black children. But 55 percent said state schools are doing either a "fair" or "poor" job educating black children.

A brewing lack of confidence in public schools, where about half of black students do not graduate high school in four years, is what prompted some black lawmakers, including state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, to say they might be willing to back more school choice next year, including possibly more charter schools. But Jackson also said he does not support vouchers and would take no action that harms public schools.