March 30, 2011 4:13PM

Lobbyist Writes Fact & Evidence‐​Free Op‐​ed, Analyst Not Shocked At All

I recently gave testimony on the merits of an education tax credit bill that’s being considered in South Carolina. Molly Spearman, executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, a public school lobbying group, denounces both the bill and my testimony today in The State newspaper.

Ms. Spearman’s comments reveal either a complete disregard for the basic facts and research findings, or an ignorance of those facts, resulting in errors big and small.

On the small side, she refers to me as a “paid consultant from the Virginia‐​based Cato Institute” when in reality I’m a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, which is based in Washington D.C. And while I am, unsurprisingly, paid a salary by my employer, I received no compensation of any kind in return for my testimony in the South Carolina legislature.

More concerning, Ms. Spearman claims that an education tax credit program like the one proposed in SC “has no research‐​based support that is works.” Her review of the research on credit programs appears to have consisted of calling someone in the Florida Department of [Public] Education to ask them why they thought academic achievement in Florida has increased.

Ms. Spearman apparently missed the official government study, conducted by academic researcher David Figlio at Northwestern University, which found the credit program significantly improved the academic achievement of public school students. That’s not surprising, since it’s consistent with the seventeen other studies that find private school choice programs improve public school performance.

Ms. Spearman also dismisses the state savings expected from the program based on a shocking misunderstanding of education funding. State savings are based on the amount of the credit and the amount of state funding that changes when a student leaves public school; fixed classroom costs have nothing to do with it. The state will save about $500 per student under this program.

The school districts will save much more; about $5,500 in additional funds for every student who leaves even after subtracting fixed costs. Ms. Spearman acts as if almost no money is saved when a student leaves. Here’s a question; then why do public school demand full funding for each additional new student? It works both ways … if one fewer student saved little money, then one more would add little cost. In fact, an academic study has found that only about 20 percent of student funding in South Carolina is fixed in the short term. In the long‐​term, there are no fixed costs at all.

Again, this is no surprise; an official government analysis found Florida’s credit saved about $1.50 for ever dollar in credits while improving the academic achievement of public school students. Numerous studies demonstrate large actual and potential savings from private choice programs.

There are more errors in other areas, which is remarkable for a piece under 700 words, but I’ll close with Ms. Spearman’s final thought; “We are falling behind our neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia. We cannot gamble on this legislation.”

How ironic … Georgia adopted a relatively large education tax credit program in 2008, while North Carolina is seriously considering a tax credit proposal of it’s own this year. South Carolina can’t afford not to adopt education tax credit reform.

Had Ms. Spearman done her due diligence on this education issue, or had she called me and asked, she could have avoided these embarrassing errors.

Ms. Spearman’s article is all the more concerning because she is a former schoolteacher and now leads the S.C. Association of School Administrators. South Carolina’s children and taxpayers deserve far better from their leaders in public education