Group opposes private school choice

Thousands of public education supporters received a letter from former Gov. Dick Riley last weekend urging recipients to support a new organization that opposes private school vouchers and tuition tax credits.

The group's purpose, according to its director, Rachel Dean, is to speak with an authoritative voice about school-reform issues. Its primary mission, she said, is rebutting advocacy groups that claim private school choice is an option parents want because of unhappiness with public schools.

Riley's call-to-arms on behalf of Reform Improve Support Education South Carolina also includes a solicitation for donations "to keep the voucher and tax credit scheme proponents at bay." The goal, he wrote, is to raise $250,000 by May, when debate about controversial issues in the Legislature typically peaks.

RISE SC, Dean said, wants to support incumbent lawmakers facing criticism for supporting public schools or candidates financed by groups that favor private school choice.

Riley warns RISE SC faces tough, well-funded opponents.

"The vultures are circling over our state as a new group of outsiders seeks to make South Carolina the petri dish for their radical voucher experiments," Riley said. In November, a wealthy Utah businessman indicated he would consider helping school-choice proponents push to give parents that option."

Last year, Furman University researchers released a multiyear study that showed South Carolinians support public school reform over giving financial incentives to parents who teach children at home or send them to private schools.

Jon Butzon, head of a Charleston-based public school advocacy group, said RISE SC "is a great idea, particularly from the standpoint that we've got to do a better job of encouraging elected officials and make it easier for them to stand up for schools."