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Lugoff-Elgin High School hosts legislative forum

Posted: September 20, 2013 5:14 p.m.
Updated: September 23, 2013 1:00 a.m.
Miciah Bennett/C-I

Kershaw County Board of School Trustees Chair Mara Jones talks to Lugoff-Elgin High School’s entire junior and senior class about issues affecting education at a legislative forum last Tuesday. Local and state representatives answered questions formulated by students about tax credits, jobs and college tuition.

Local and state representatives told students at Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) that education is the key to the future during a Sept. 17 legislative forum at the school. The L-EHS Student and School Improvement councils, with the help of L-EHS school improvement council member Robert Price, hosted the forum to encourage juniors and seniors to engage in the political process and register to vote.

Those speaking during the forum in the L-EHS auditorium included S.C. Sen. Thomas McElveen S.C. representatives Laurie Slade Funderburk, Jimmy Bales and Grady Patterson; Kershaw County Board of School Trustees Chair Mara Jones; and Kelly Long, regional director for U.S. Sen. Timothy Scott. L-EHS Social Studies and Government and Economy teacher Sally Thornton moderated the question-and-answer forum. Students selected the questions asked during the event.

Funderburk, a 1993 L-EHS graduate, said there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to the various aspects of job creation or education reform, but that education is a key part of it. Answering a question on how each legislator would contribute to reducing higher education costs, she said an education is one of the most important investments anyone can make in their future.

“Education, as many of the folks have said, helps reduce crime, attract jobs, create jobs, helps people get jobs,” Funderburk said. “Having an education makes our society healthier. There are a lot of things an education can do: it makes us more civilized, helps us move forward in a positive direction and put positive energy back in this world.”

Jones emphasized to students the importance of being an educated voter. Jones is leading the Kershaw County School Board of Trustees’ effort to educate teachers about legislation that affects the school system, which ultimately affects students.

She said one way the school board helps to cut down on higher education costs while students are still in the public school system is creating partnerships with institutions such as Central Carolina Technical College, where students can work toward getting dual-credit classes. Jones also said the Applied Technology Education Campus can also teach a trade to those who may not want to pursue a two- or four-year degree. Students can go to work right after graduating from ATEC programs.

McElveen said the state is currently funding colleges and universities at between 8 and 10 percent -- a low figure compared to other states, he said. McElveen, who told students that he’s still paying student loans, said there are many programs that are helping students shorten the time it takes to get a four-year degree and that technical colleges are an excellent choice. Technical colleges have bridge programs that are a great option for some students, he said.

Brown and Bail said technical colleges are a “golden opportunity.” Bail said scholarships such as Palmetto Fellows are also helpful to students if they can keep their grades up in high school and college.

“The world will stop to let anyone pass, if he or she only knows where they want to go,” Brown said, emphasizing the need for students to know where they are headed so they can prepare for the future.

Funderburk also said planning is critical and that taking dual-credit classes and advanced placement classes are a way students can cut down on college costs. Two-year degrees are one option, she said, but if students want to go to medical school, law school or become a teacher, a four-year degree is critical.

All of the representatives said they do not advocate tax credits to help parents offset the costs of private school because it takes away from a strong public school system.

“The state constitution says that it will support free, public education, so we need to support a free public education,” Funderburk said. “Tax credits for private education are not the priority, but more 4-K classes, technical education opportunities and teachers are a priority.”

Jones also said that a tax credit on education is the wrong way to go.

“We need every dollar coming into our system in order to run effective and efficient schools,” Jones said. “As a school board elected official, I will do everything I can to educate many people about the downfall of tax credits for vouchers, because it takes it out of your pocket and what you are entitled to everyday sitting in a classroom. When a voucher bill is passed, it means public education will lose what we are entitled to.”

School funding has also been an issue for school districts across the state. McElveen said that Act 388 has thrown “our three-legged stool” off balance. He said because Act 388 passed before the recession, sales tax did not adequately replace the property taxes that used to help fund schools. Business owners are now taxed at higher levels to make up for shortfalls, McElveen said.

“It’s caused major problems in the state,” he said. “I don’t know if we can change it, but we are long overdue for comprehensive tax reform. I think we have to go back and look at our sales tax-code, how we are exempting things, we also need to look at our property tax code and our income tax code.”

McElveen said that until “everyone can sit down at the table” and adhere to a comprehensive tax reform, such funding issues are likely to continue.

Bales said advocates made Act 388 sound good, but that it should be amended. One way the state could start is by capping exemptions at $200,000, he said. Bales said people have tried to have Act 388 amended, but the lobbying influence is “so great,” that’s it’s been hard to overcome. Bales agreed that special exemptions need to stop.

Brown said Act 388 isn’t meeting the needs of public education, and Funderburk added that equity funding is critical in South Carolina to provide more “even footing” across the state.

Jones said legislation like Act 388 has inspired her to help people get educated and registered to vote. She urged L-EHS students to research the candidates and know where they stand on issues. Unintended consequences need to be fixed, so the effects on businesses ultimately affect their relationship with school districts.

“You have two options as you move forward in life: sit back and hope it happens or be active and take a part. That’s what today is about -- educating yourselves so that you are able to become an active member by voting,” Jones said.

In regard to job creation, Long said taxation (“a simple and predictable tax code”) and educated work force is the key is job market growth. Long said someone who understands science, technology, engineering and math, is technically astute, a team worker, reliable, and what people want to see in potential employees. The ability to constantly learn new skills is important to employers as well, Long said.

Both McElveen and Bales said they will do everything they can to bring jobs to the area. Funding technical colleges is a key part in job creation Bales said. McElveen said businesses are looking at infrastructure and if representatives work well with the community and he’ll do his best to get businesses into the area.

Funderburk said businesses create the jobs, not the government. She said it is small and large business that create most jobs and that it’s important to support them. Funderburk also mentioned that South Carolina has about $39 billion of infrastructure needs.

Due to time constraints, representatives could not give closing advice on the importance of voting, although Brown warned that if students don’t vote, they have no reason to complain about election outcomes.

“We have men and women who are dying paying the ultimate sacrifice for your freedom and for my freedom, to be able to vote and live in a free county,” Brown said. “You should vote in every election that comes up from the time you are registered to vote -- you should never, ever fail to vote. I promise you, if you want to be an effective citizen when you graduate high school or college, use your position at the ballot box to vote for people who are voter friendly, who are education friendly, who are friendly to the environment and you will go a long way.”

Thornton said the forum was instrumental in encouraging young voters to get involved because they are often marginalized. He said the forum was held to help students understand the issues and how those issues affect them directly, and that it’s important for public officials to answer relevant questions.

“An educated voting populace is critical. To be an educated, thinking voter, who thinks about the issues instead of voting straight-ticket is powerful,” she said.


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