This open letter is being sent to ask our representatives to be astute in judgment regarding “advice” from various sources on the school choice plan.


In an article published in the Aiken Standard on Sept. 28, titled “Lawmakers get advice on school choice plan,” the Associated Press reports that Matthew Ladner, senior policy and research adviser with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, is the advice giver. This organization, a nonprofit that seems positive as it was initiated by Jeb Bush and strives for “excellence,” should be scrutinized for accuracy and perspective since it is pushing an agenda that may have a negative effect on public schools in South Carolina.


The following questions should be among matters considered by all involved:


• How can a “dollar for dollar tax credit” that “lowers the tax bill by up to 60 percent” not take money from state tax funds needed for law enforcement, highways and education in S.C.?


• How can the average taxpayer have an extra $10,000 laying around to donate to a private school? Does this tax break not favor the “well-heeled?”


• What distinguishes the “disabilities” qualification? Will the private schools eligible to receive donations offer quality support services for all levels of disabilities or will they limit their admissions to identified disabilities, such as LD and ADD, conditions that are more easily “included” in regular classrooms? Further, will special-needs students actually get the level of needed support in the private setting? Who will monitor?


• How many private schools in South Carolina serve students with disabilities requiring extensive support services, such as those needed by the visually and hearing impaired, emotionally disabled, severely autistic and profound mentally handicapped? These children thrive when the assistance is intense, and these special education services are costly.


• What about accountability? These “scholarship dollars,” essentially dollars removed from tax collections by the state, would have what kind of reporting system to ensure that the purpose of supporting disabled students is actually how every penny is spent?


These are but some of the questions that should be asked by conscientious lawmakers protecting the financial and educational interests of our state.


An online search of the Foundation for Excellence in Education reveals that “emails between this group and state education officials show that the foundation is writing laws in ways that benefit their corporate funders.” They work through “Chiefs for Change affiliates to edit regulations that improved profit opportunities for the organizations financial backers.”


Are these allegations all true? It is my hope that our elected officials will have discernment in these matters and move with caution when giving away tax dollars.


Angela Burkhalter


Aiken