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Race to the Bottom
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The state superintendent of education, Mick Zais, and Gov. Nikki Haley will not apply to the U.S. Department of Education for up to $50 million in federal Race to the Top funds allocated for South Carolina’s public school system.

In another of the zany decisions emanating from Columbia, South Carolina will sacrifice a chance to enrich its public school system with funds which are already being used by many other states to compete with us.

I make these arguments against the decision of the state not to apply for the education dollars:

(1) Purely as an economic development matter, $50 million pumped into the economy of the state, with a multiplier factor, would provide lots of economic activity and job opportunities for South Carolinians, sorely in need of work.

Of course, the people making the decision to deny the funds, Zias and Haley, are raking in lots of public dollars in their own lives. Zias is on a military pension and draws a handsome salary as state superintendent of education. Haley’s husband works for the National Guard and she, herself, is well fixed with the salary and emoluments the taxpayers provide her as governor. Somehow, those tax dollars seem to be acceptable, but obtaining tax dollars for unemployed and under-employed people is philosophically objectionable.

(2) We do not take the federal dollars, to which we contribute through our own income tax payments, and they will be distributed to other states in the union, who are less blinded by an anti-federal posture which afflicts South Carolina. So we pay for our competition to improve their school systems while ours flounders in the backwaters.

(3) We hear lots of verbal persiflage all the time about South Carolina having to compete with other states and other countries if our economy is to survive and prosper. With the decisions coming out of Columbia, we will never advance our competitors. Looking back over the last 10 years, no one will deny that our state government has been mostly miserable in terms of decision-making and progress -- unless they have been stranded on the Appalachian Trail or at the Lexington Medical Center.

If we continue with blighted decisions like the one on refusing federal funds to enrich our public schools, we will be competitive all right -- with Haiti, one of the most beleaguered societies in the world.

We will not be in the Race to the Top; we are creating our own race to the bottom.

(C-I contributing columnist Fred R. Sheheen is a former newspaper publisher and S.C. Commissioner on Higher Education. He currently teaches at the University of South Carolina.)