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SC Superintendent of Education Jim Rex Argues Benefits of School Choice

June 1, 2009

An Electronic Publication from Conservatives In Action

June 1, 2009

SC Superintendent of Education Jim Rex Argues Benefits of School Choice

Posted June 1, 2009

South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex conducted a Town Hall meeting at Greenville’s J.L. Mann High School on May 28, 2009.

His goal was to communicate the goals and direction of the South Carolina Department of Education, but he seemed to provide arguments FOR universal school choice instead.

His insult to the state’s teachers probably won’t be too popular, either.

The sound may be difficult to hear, so you might need to increase the volume on your computer speakers. You may also need to turn off the “HD” function for easier playback.

“How do we combat the unfavorable, negative publicity that’s constantly streaming out there about our public schools? Now, some of it’s accurate. We need improvement.” He added, “But some of it is inaccurate and false about the quality of some of our schools in South Carolina. We do have some districts and some schools that are pulling our state averages down. Sometimes, I probably shouldn’t use this word, but I sometimes call these theories ‘drop out factors,’ and what they are, frankly, are parts of our state that have high concentrations of poverty, and for not just decades but in some cases generations, they have not been able to help students succeed, and in some of these areas of our state, frankly, the children in that in those areas don’t have a shot at The American Dream because of the quality of the buildings they’re in, the quality of the teachers they’re able to attract, and the curriculum…and the expectations…low expectations. If we don’t turn those around, the entire state is gonna continue to reap the negative image that those districts and those failures make all of us assume whether we want to or not. So you can have a world-class high school. You can have a great program in Greenville or Fort Mill or somewhere else in the state, but you’re still in South Carolina, and, you know, these kids, there are 700,000 of them right now in our public schools, they’re gonna live in this state for a long time.”

Noting that South Carolina is a “high retention” state (meaning that most children who go to school in SC will likely remain in SC as permanent residents in adulthood), Dr. Rex noted that, “What we do with them (the students) and for them is gonna shape and determine, to a large extent, what kind of state we have for the next 30 or 40 years. So this is something we have to care about…not just the kids next door, not just the kids in our family or our grandchildren, but all of the children in South Carolina because they’re gonna inherit the same future together. They’re gonna live in that future together, and they’re either gonna be in the prisons we build or homes that they pay for and build. They’re either gonna be taking money from the tax rolls, or they’re gonna be adding money to the tax rolls, and so we all have a vested interest in what happens to these 700,000 children.”

“In my world, these people who are improving are not called failures.”

“I’m a big believer in giving parents many more options than they presently have within the public school system. I think a 21st century public school system is gonna be a choice-driven public school system. You know, the idea that parents have to put their child in a specific public school program because of the piece of dirt that their house or apartment sits on, ‘attendance areas,’ I think is increasingly inadequate an idea. I think that most of us in America want choices in our lives, and I don’t think that public schools should be any exception.”

“We have asked districts, in spite of legislation not being in place, to have every school district in the state develop ‘choice’ plans. We’ve asked school districts to voluntarily get behind providing their parents with more choices. Some districts, admittedly, have been more responsive than others. This district (Greenville) has been one of the more responsive districts, but some have not been.”

Discussing increased choices on a voluntary district basis, Dr. Rex said, “What we’re showing, and it’s not an abstraction, we’re showing that parents and students want more choices and that they’ll respond to them and they’ll succeed in them when we provide them. The problem is if we don’t require it within every school district, what we’re ending up with by making it voluntary is another equity issue – yet another equity issue in our state. By that I mean that what we’re seeing is we have ‘high choice’ districts, we have ‘low choice’ districts, and we have ‘no choice’ districts. And you can kinda guess where some of those ‘no choice’ districts are. In some cases, they’re in districts that need choices the most and the kids and the parents need choices the most.”

“We know, and teachers know more than anyone, that we’re still doing too many things that don’t work for too many kids.”

Our question is this. Dr. Rex, you obviously see that there’s room for improvement in South Carolina’s educational landscape. You admit without hesitation that parents and students want choices and that choices work. Why not add even more choices – especially if there is a net financial gain to the public school system?


Do you want a seat at the table? Do you want to have a voice in South Carolina’s public policy process? If you do, then contact your legislators and let them know how you feel.

If you want to get involved but need legislators’ contact information, go to and enter your ZIP code. It’s that easy.

Don’t forget to pass this along to your South Carolina friends and
* ask them to join “Conservatives in Action” on Facebook
* invite them to sign up for updates by e-mailing
* ask them to get involved in the political process.

We’re all responsible for our state’s future.

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