Enquirer Herald

S.C. should support Sen. Ford's choice plan

Report after report in recent years keep delivering the same news: as a nation, we are not doing a great job of preparing for the future, with one of the most glaring examples being how we organize public education. State Sen. Robert Ford is among many of us who recognize this, but is part of a smaller group of leaders pushing to change the status quo. His efforts deserve South Carolina's support.

As African-American Democrats who support school choice, neither Sen. Ford nor I are strangers to vociferous opposition on this front. Education is not a partisan issue and it is not a racial issue -- it is an American issue. Sticking with what we've been doing has forced too many children, particularly those of color, to lose out. In this global marketplace, that's not an option we can afford.

President Obama has charged us to figure out new approaches to education through innovation and excellence. He said what's required is not simply new investments, but new reforms. By exploring new ideas we will discover what works, allowing our students and our country to remain competitive.

I doubt parents in South Carolina are happy to settle for reports that show fewer than 3 in 5 of their students graduate from high school, and can assure you that such news is equally troubling for commerce departments and industry. As globalization continues to increase, the choice for many companies will be to simply pull up stakes and relocate to Finland, Hong Kong, India or other areas where scientists and engineers are graduating in droves.

In Pennsylvania, we don't do new for newness sake. In fact, I faced my own set of critics when I joined parents, educators and students clamoring for another approach to K-12 education. Despite the naysayers, many of whom also were people of color, we have found and continue to tally results. A key program in our success story is the Education Improvement Tax Credit, the model for Ford's initiative.

Our program has allowed students of lesser economic means a crack at success, which lifts our nation, something sorely needed with test scores and educational attainment still lagging behind our international competitors.

Educational tax incentives such as those outlined in our program, in Ford's initiative and in full bloom across the country in states like Florida and Arizona, give companies the opportunity to actively invest in the communities in which they operate. At a time where we are decrying corporate irresponsibility, this program has proven an effective way to engage industry and benefit families.

Since its inception in Pennsylvania eight years ago, more than 3,600 companies have contributed to our EITC program. More than $300 million has been contributed. More than a quarter of a million students have received a better education as a result. South Carolina's families deserve the same.

Some may hesitate, question whether corporations in South Carolina will participate or if scholarship organizations can form effectively and disburse funds efficiently to a diverse set of students. It can happen. It did here. And given the chance, it will happen in South Carolina.

Academic brilliance shouldn't have to dull and horizons shouldn't have to narrow simply because a family is struggling from pay-check to pay-check.

South Carolina deserves better. America needs better. And we can't afford to wait.