- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


May 3

The State of Columbia on South Carolina merit scholarships:

When the Legislature created LIFE scholarships in 1998, it instructed the state Board of Education to establish a uniform high school grade scale to even out the standards across the state. That scale set an “A” at 93 out of 100, a “B” at 85-92, a “C” at 77-84 and a “D” at 70-76.

In the 15 years since, the Legislature has created HOPE scholarships and increased the value of LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarships, and tens of thousands of students have received one of the state’s merit scholarships every year - so many that the programs outgrew the lottery revenues we were promised would fund them and had to be subsidized by general tax revenue.

Last month, without any instruction or even suggestions from the Legislature, the State Board of Education lowered the standards for all of those scholarships. Starting this fall, a 90 will get you an “A,” and an 80 will become a “B” - which guarantees some sort of merit scholarship.

Supporters say the change was designed with an entirely different goal: to help S.C. student-athletes meet NCAA requirements and to help other students compete for scholarships with students from states that use the 10-point scale. State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said her plan was “not about watering down grades” but rather was designed to “help level the playing field for our students as they compete for scholarships with students from other states.”

Actually, it is watering down our grades; this is an indisputable mathematical fact. But Ms. Spearman’s argument makes perfectly good sense - when it comes to competing under rules set outside of South Carolina. Certainly, our students who finish high school with a 90 average should be eligible for the same scholarships as 90-average students in other states. Certainly, our college athletic programs shouldn’t be forced to reject an S.C. student with a 75 average while accepting an N.C. student with that same score.

But the argument doesn’t wash when it comes to scholarships funded by our state government and available only to S.C. students. And that is where this change will have the biggest effect: Once the new system is phased in, as many as 13,000 students a year are expected to receive scholarships they wouldn’t qualify for today. That will increase the cost of the scholarships by $50 million a year, to $350 million.

Advocates know this; Ms. Spearman has made a point of saying she would work with the Legislature “to see if they see that as a good thing.” But no one has even attempted to explain - much less advocate for - why it would be a good thing to lower the requirements for all of our merit-based scholarships.

Here it’s useful to remember what has happened as the cost of the “lottery” scholarships has increased: State funding for our public colleges has plummeted. That’s because legislators like to pretend that paying for scholarships is the same as funding colleges. It is not. Paying for a scholarship simply changes the name on the tuition check, from the students or their parents to the state of South Carolina.

So if nothing changes, we all know where the Legislature will get that extra $50 million a year to pay for those new scholarships that the Board of Education just approved: additional cuts to our colleges and universities.

The question isn’t whether we should reduce the merit required for our merit scholarships - although we believe there are better ways to spend our higher-education money. The question is who should have the power to change a very clear legislative policy, and the answer is not the Board of Education.

If our Legislature believes we need to give a scholarship to every student who graduates from high school with an 80 average instead of the current 85, it certainly can vote to do that. But absent that vote, the standards need to remain the same that they’ve always been.

The only way to make that happen - to maintain the status quo - is to change the scholarship criteria in state law, so students still have to earn at least an 85 average to receive a basic scholarship, and correspondingly higher grades for the other scholarships.

And the time to make that happen is right now, in the state budget bill the Senate is debating this week - before 13,000 high school seniors receive new grades that lead them to believe they’re going to receive scholarships they didn’t earn.




April 27

The Herald of Rock Hill on South Carolina lawmakers and the budget:

The only apparent priority for most state lawmakers is not raising taxes. The result is a budget in which all the real priorities end up in the losers column.

The Legislature had $1.2 billion more to spend this year thanks to higher-than-expected revenue growth. Nonetheless, lawmakers chose to shortchange K-12 education, higher education and county governments.

Lawmakers gave considerable lip service to the states’ crumbling roads, but the outcome was an inadequate short-term fix that doesn’t begin to address serious infrastructure problems. The plan also takes $300 million from the general fund rather than raise the state gasoline tax.

The shortfall in funding for schools and counties not only is shortsighted, it also defies state law. State law sets the amount the Legislature is required to spend per pupil each year. Next fiscal year, per-pupil spending will increase to $2,350, but that still is $583 a student below the required level.

The local government fund - the money the state is required to spend to supplement the cost of local services - has remained at $212.6 million for the past four years, and the House proposes keeping it at that level for the next fiscal year. The Senate’s budget calls for an increase to $240 million, but even that is $85 million short of what state law says counties must get.

Higher education also fares poorly. Current funding for the state’s technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities is $245 million lower that it was before the Great Recession. While lawmakers propose raising spending by about $170 million, that’s still $75 million less than higher ed received before the recession.

The likely result is increased tuition and fees for college students.

The Senate was intent on blocking any increase in the state’s gas tax. But that meant the stingy $300 million allocated to roads and bridges had to come out of added revenues that could have been spent on education or local services.

Focusing solely on keeping taxes low is a dangerous form of myopia. While this approach is based on the premise that low tax rates are necessry to attract new business to the state, that ignores all the other factors that prospective companies consider when deciding where to invest.

The businesses the state hopes to attract also are interested in quality education for the children of their employees and decent roads for transporting materials and goods. They want adequate local services, including law enforcement, fire protection, garbage pickup and emergency medical assistance.

Companies want a well-educated and trained work force. They want consumers who have good jobs and make enough money to buy their products.

Lawmakers easily could have raised the state’s 16.75-cent gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised in more than 25 years, while still remaining competitive with neighboring states on the price of a gallon of gas. And much of the money raised by the tax - nearly a third a third, according to estimates by the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office - would be paid by visitors to the state.

Unfortunately, the phobia over taxes, spurred on by money from out-of-state billionaires, has resulted in a failure to sustain fundamental needs and services, as exemplified by the new budget. That’s not good for business in South Carolina or for the people who live here.




May 2

The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on risk of flooding:

Visitors Saturday to the Orangeburg Festival of Roses got to see the beautiful colors of Edisto Memorial Gardens. Many also took notice of the North Edisto River that flows through the gardens.

A longtime festival event, the blackwater race along the Edisto, was not held this year because of the number of obstructions in the river. The Edisto is still feeling the effects of October’s historic flooding. It will recover on its own, but the process will take time.

The same can be said of many people impacted by the flooding. For most, those harrowing days in the fall are a memory. For others, the damage remains.

Saturday was a day to emphasize that while the flooding was unprecedented in its size and scope, the risk of future damage from rains and high water levels is real.

The S.C. Emergency Management Division and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources used the occasion of Saturday’s National Preparedness Day to urge South Carolinians to take steps that reduce the risks of severe flooding.

Spring and summer months typically produce heavy rains and the conditions for severe and flash flooding, which is the most common form of natural disaster in the United States.

Half of all flood-related fatalities occur when cars are driven into flood waters. It only takes two feet of flood water to carry away a car. Only six inches of rushing flood water is needed to sweep away a full-grown adult.

The season for hurricanes is nearing. These sprawling storms are notorious for high winds; however, most, if not all, hurricane-related fatalities are due to storm surge and freshwater drowning. Hurricanes create coastal and inland flooding by pushing large quantities of water ashore in the form of storm surge. A wall of water can rapidly overwhelm shoreline structures threatening those who have not evacuated. Evacuation orders save lives. Hurricanes also produce vast swaths of heavy inland rainfall, even if the storms do not make landfall.

The rainfall amounts seen during the October floods, although not actually hurricane-related, did represent the rainfall possible from a hurricane moving over South Carolina. On Oct. 3, 11.5 inches of rain fell in Charleston in just 24 hours, both a station record and over three times the amount of rain Charleston normally receives during the entire month of October.

Over the course of three days in early October 2015, parts of The T&D; Region and the Midlands received more than 20 inches, leading to multiple dam failures, overloaded storm drains and the worst flooding many residents have ever experienced.

The floods of October 2015 demonstrated that severe flooding can disrupt electricity and the drinking water supply for many days. Flood waters could also carry hazardous materials that can endanger health, either upon contact with the water itself or with the soggy debris left after the flood waters recede.

Regardless of the source, the season for heavy rain and flooding is before us again. Take precautions to avoid dangerous flood waters whether they be from an offshore hurricane or a severe thunderstorm. Plan ahead. Prepare early. Never underestimate the dangers of flood waters.





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