With poor school performances rampant in Charleston County and the state as a whole, State Senator Robert Ford has finally decided that school tax credits for parents choosing to send their children to private schools could be the only solution to parents wanting the best possible option for their children’s future.  The bill, as reported on by The Post and Courier, would “provide children with a tuition tax credit worth $2,433 for most, $4,867 for students with special needs and $3,650 for those who attend a failing school”.  The P&C goes on to report that “Scholarships funded by charitable contributions also would be available for children whose parents earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $44,100 for a family of four. ”

archibald rutledge academyMcClellanville’s Archibald Rutledge Academy, where I attended from 4 year-old Kindergarten until graduation and would like to some day send my 2 year-old son, is one such school that could greatly benefit from such a bill.   A $2433 tax credit for a school with a $3500 tuition would be huge for local parents who are seeing less and less in their paychecks.  The bill would actually cover the entire tuition for children in poorer families, opening the educational possibilities to so many more children.  

The increased enrollment would translate to more programs and improvements for a school that has proven it’s financial responsibility and ability to produce students prepared to go to college or enter the workforce while the public schools  system spends over $20,000 annually per pupil in this area and remains at the bottom of the academic ratings in a county which is near the bottom of the state in rankings.  Generation after generation the students and parents of ARA (most of whom are alumni now) have done whatever was necessary to keep the school going and are responsible for McClellanville’s two biggest tourist events the Lowcountry Shrimp Festival (coming this May 2nd) and CreekSlam Fishing Tournament (every October).

A whole plethora of thoughts enter my mind every time I drive by ARA.  It’s where I learned of the sciences, not just in the textbooks but from nature walks and the deck of shrimpboat trawling the ocean floor.  And math from teachers who could put even complex formulas into everyday examples so everyone could understand them.  And reading and writing from passionate people who had taught for generations because  they did make a difference in the life of their students.  It’s where no child is forgotten and everyone is nurtured and encouraged to strive.  It’s where I learned that if you work hard enough than you can achieve your goals.  It’s where I learned that your own thoughts are opinions do matter even if you are a child.  It’s where I learned morals and principals on which I still stand today and grew from a small child to a man.  And it’s where I still gather every Sunday to play a game of pick-up basketball with generations of alumni whom I’ve known my entire life and grown to call my extended family.

McClellanville has a lot going for it; the amazing natural resources of adjacent Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge and Francis Marion Forest, beautiful historic district with its quaint boutiques, restaurants, homes and ancient live oaks, and a strong caring community of citizens that look out for one another to name just a few.   Our public education system is dismal however.  The No Child Left Behind Act created a standard that public schools must meet or allow children to attend another public school.  At least one of the schools in the rural District 1 seems to always be rated as “failing” but it mysteriously shuffles around each year.  St. James Santee Elementary is currently “failing” and recently McClellanville Middle School was conveniently closed before it could “earn” the “failing” rating a second year in a row spurring the ability of parents to take advantage of the No Child Left Behind Act and send their kids elsewhere.  Affordable schools could open the area to a younger demographic that has overlooked all that McClellanville has to offer and sturdy the local economy with an injection of home sales and new dollars.

Every few years when education becomes a hot button topic in the Lowcountry, the Charleston County School Board shuffles paper around and promises to do a better job, usually finding a scapegoat to fire in the process.   Down the road we see few improvements and little significant changes.  The poor performing schools actually get worse as the school board introduces academic magnet and charter schools which pluck the exceptional students out in a process which lowers the schools averages and blantantly demonstrates that a great education can’t be provided at these schools.  These schools also unfairly place District 1 at the bottom of the list for enrollment.  The system is broke and the educational leaders are too inept or scared to make the hard decisions required to fix it.

What would a McClellanville without ARA look like? No Shrimp Festival. No Fishing Tournament.  No baked goods or spaghetti dinner fund raisers.  No basketball games on Friday nights.  No roadside trash pickup.   Some parents would probably move closer to their jobs and other schools while some would send their children to the public schools where they have no role in their education.   In short McClellanville would survive but it would not be the same.

Please share your thoughts below in the comments section and if you feel passionately about this issue contact your representatives and have them support this bill.  With the strong new presence of Senator Ford we may be able to make this a reality and improve the future generations to come.

Update: 3/31/09 – The teachers and education leader must be starting to get scared about this bill if they’re holding a rally.  Keep up the good work Senator Ford!  Be sure to read the comments here as well as on the Post and Courier.