South Carolina’s Gubernatorial Race Gets Heated over Education

South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and rival Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden), are both eager to get votes from parents, teachers, and the broader education community in November’s upcoming election for governor.  Haley points to new spending on technology and reading, along with more money for low-income schools. Sheheen want an expansion of the state’s existing 4-year-old kindergarten program.  Jamie Self, writing for The State, says what comes next in education differs between the two.

Haley wants to connect students to jobs and improve schools. She persuaded the legislature to spend almost $60 million on technology and reading coaches for elementary schools.  Haley has also pushed for a change in the complicated way money is distributed to schools in order to distribute more funding for children living in poverty.

Sheheen is behind changing the way the state pays for schools to balance the spending in wealthy and poor school districts. Sheheen wants to eliminate the use of local property taxes to pay for schools and create a new statewide property tax to pay for education. In response to Haley’s 30-second ad concerning children’s opportunity being diminished by where they are born and wanting to change that model, Sheheen said:

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Sheheen told The State newspaper Thursday in response to Haley’s ad. “I’ve spent the last 10 years saying that no child’s opportunity should be dictated by where they’re born.”

His greatest education achievement to date is the expansion of free kindergarten for 4-year-old children who live in low-income homes.

From 2011-2013, Haley vetoed $110 million in educational spending.  But one Upstate official says that Haley is “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  Haley says she is open to to proposals to make school funding more fair and is meeting with experts and practitioners to make her proposals public before the Nov. 4 election.

A new poll taken by Rasmussen Reports has Haley far ahead of Sheheen with 51% of voters supporting the incumbent and just 36% for Sheheen.  A Public Policy Polling survey paid for by the S.C. Democratic Party has Haley ahead 49% to Sheheen’s 46%, says Andrew Shain with The Island Packet.

As South Carolineans draw closer to election day, more and more campaign rhetoric is being touted.  Seanna Adcox of the Associated Press says that the state GOP has selectively chosen passages from Sheheen’s self-published book to claim that the opponent is hiding a liberal tax-increase agenda, and Sheheen is claiming that Haley vetoed 4-year-old kindergarten. In truth, Haley did not veto the bill.  Sheheen was actually referring to a veto of a bill reauthorizing and reforming First Steps, the agency assigned to boost students’ chances of success. One of its duties was to oversee the private providers in the 4K program. Haley said the agency needed further review, and legislators overrode the veto.

Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore pointed out passages in Sheheen’s book pointing to the ways Sheheen had in mind to hike taxes for citizens of the state. One example was the creation of  a low statewide property tax, which Moore says has been introduced by Republicans in both the House and the Senate since 2012 to no avail.

Continuing the battle of words, Sheheen stopped in Charleston this week to pledge his commitment to education.  He reiterated his intention of raising teacher salaries and reducing class sizes. He stated his interest in creating a teachers’ council so that teachers could give input to state government on education matters.  He added:

“Nikki Haley is failing our children and teachers,” he said, “and we can’t trust her to tell the truth about what’s going on or to put forth the effort to actually address the problems.”

Haley’s campaign accused Sheheen of tampering with the truth and misrepresenting her support of 4K.

“The people of South Carolina weren’t fooled by Vince Sheheen’s constant negative attacks and deceptive ads four years ago and they won’t be fooled this year,” said campaign spokeswoman Chaney Adams.