Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier
Private-school choice proposal should be an amendment to bill
South Carolina owns about 1,300 elementary, middle and high schools, which educate 750,000 children - some quite well, others horribly.
On Tuesday (Jan. 21), state senators began debates on a bill aimed at improving those schools. S.419 is not the sweeping education reform that House members have portrayed it to be but rather, as Senate Education Chairman Greg Hembree told his colleagues, a package of needed updates to existing education laws with a few important reforms added in.
Unfortunately, some senators seem more interested in subsidizing private schools than improving the schools we own. When Mr. Hembree urged senators not to amend the bill with their favorite education proposals, Sen. Tom Davis politely objected, noting that it would be akin to "legislative malpractice" not to try to attach his proposal to pay for children to attend private rather than public schools.
The alternative justifications for proposals to throw tax money at private schools are 1) that poor parents should be allowed the same "choices" about their children's education as well-off parents and 2) that private schools are inherently superior to public schools.
The first argument is sort of like saying that poor people deserve the same "choice" as wealthy people to live in million-dollar mansions and that the taxpayers have an obligation to pay for those choices. That's a philosophical question that we reject - and that the lawmakers who support school vouchers surely would reject.
But the second argument isn't philosophical, and it isn't accurate. There is no question that some private schools do a better job than some public schools. Maybe they would still do a better job even if they had to accept all students, as public schools do, rather than cherry picking the ones they want; we just don't know.
There's also no question, though, that some private schools do an awful job. And there's good reason to believe that if we promised to send them a supply of pre-paid students, a lot of new private schools would crop up that would do an awful job. Frankly, we've seen a few such examples with charter schools - and the fact that the state has been unable and the Legislature has been unwilling to stop funding failing charters underscores the likelihood that a lot of taxpayer money would be squandered - and a lot of students sacrificed - if South Carolina paid private-school tuition for any students who wanted it.
Mr. Davis said he needs to offer his private-school choice bill as an amendment to S.419 because the Senate has agreed to debate that bill, and he can't get the Senate to agree to debate bills to divert tax money from public schools to private schools. But if he can't get the Senate to agree to debate such a bill, he also can't stop a filibuster aimed at killing such a bill. Or killing a perfectly good bill that has been amended to include it.
That might be just fine with the teacher group SC for Ed, which is determined to kill S.419 because it doesn't include everything its members want, it does include a few things they don't want - or perhaps that they don't understand - and they weren't allowed to write the first draft of the bill.
The Times and Democrat
Do plastic bag bans help decrease litter?
The City of Charleston and Charleston County are the latest to ban single-use plastic bags, joining most other local governments along South Carolina's coast.
Such a step has been discussed before in Orangeburg County's battle against litter.
The S.C. House previously has passed legislation that would prohibit local governments from implementing laws prohibiting plastic bags. The idea is to put in legislative hands the power of regulating the sale of "auxiliary containers" on a statewide basis.
While local governments argue legislative intervention would violate the Home Rule Act, there is reason for concern about varying local laws and the effects they can have.
And there are legitimate reasons to argue that packaging, particularly plastic bags, has gotten a bum rap in the litter debate. They are but a component in a much larger litter problem.
Reporting for greenliving.lovetoknow.com, Georgia-based writer Crystal Schwanke states: "Plastic bags have a bad reputation, but banning them could have some surprising negative effects. A ban could have repercussions on consumer convenience and even the economy without making a truly significant improvement to the environment."
Citing studies and sources, she makes key points:
- Plastic bag alternatives aren't necessarily better - Plastic works better than paper or cotton in many situations. Sometimes, plastic is reused in the process (such as lining a bathroom trashcan or cleaning up after your dog on a walk).
- Paper lasts longer in landfills - Paper takes up more room in landfills and doesn't disintegrate rapidly. A SciDev.net article states paper bags take up to nine times more room than plastic and break down at about the same rate.
- Plastic's carbon footprint is better - University of Oregon chemistry professor David Tyler says plastic bags actually produce less stress on the environment with half the carbon footprint of cotton and paper bags.
- Increased use of other plastic bags - When plastic bags given away for free in stores are banned, there's an increase in the types of plastic bags people can purchase. The plastic in the replacement bags is generally thicker and a bigger threat to the environment.
- Small percentage of the litter problem - The Reason Foundation concludes plastic bags aren't as big of a litter problem as they seem. They make up less than 1% of visible litter, don't block storm drains, make up just .4% of municipal waste and don't cut down on litter when banned.
- Reusable bags aren't sanitary - The University of Arizona reports 97% of people using reusable bags are not aware they should wash and sanitize them regularly. Other reports indicate that poses risks of food poisoning from bacteria, mold, yeast and coliform, as well as risks of bacterial skin infections and allergic reactions.
- The cost would hurt the poor - For someone with a very tight budget, needing to buy bags to carry groceries and other items home could mean less food on the table.
- Plastic bags are cheaper for stores - In an interview with National Geographic, Robert Batement, president of plastic bag manufacturing company Roplast Industries, says the cost of a plastic bag is 1 cent. Compared to 4 cents per paper bag, plastic is the winner for stores from a budgeting standpoint.
- Economic repercussions - A plastic bag ban would have an economic impact. A report from the National Center for Policy Analysis finds stores inside ban areas in Los Angeles saw a 6% decrease in sales while stores just outside of those areas saw a sales growth of 9% over a year.
- Reusable bags aren't reused - Even when people switch to reusable bags, the bags aren't reused enough to make up for the extra resources and carbon footprint involved in their creation.
- Reusable bags come from overseas - The National Center for Policy Analysis says at least 95% of reusable bags are from overseas. Most come from China.
No one will argue there is a litter problem. And nearly all should agree the bottom line is not the types of litter, it is the people doing the littering. Taking sensible actions to fight the problem is necessary. But there is legitimate reason to argue that banning plastic bags and related containers is not the progressive step it may seem to be.
As Schwanke concludes: "Banning plastic bags in lieu of cotton or paper could have a negative impact on the environment overall, not to mention the inconvenience of limiting reuse of those bags for everyday things like lining trash cans, protecting your belongings or even cleaning up after your dog. In addition, banning plastic bags could leave a significant number of people without jobs and cost individuals, communities and governments money, whether through the purchase of reusable bags or educational programs for the public. Though it may sound like a positive change on the surface, banning plastic bags could actually be detrimental to the environment and the economy."
Imposing 1 faith on schools opens Pandora's Box
While it is difficult not to view the timing as coincidence only, we don't think that - in South Carolina, at least - public schools are godless havens. True, there have been attempts to have prayer removed entirely from school functions, such as football games, but overall it seems our public school children are allowed to pray and even gather in openly Christian groups and join hands in prayer around the flagpoles.
It is indeed a fine line when it comes to separation of church and state, and we would agree that the pendulum need not swing in such a way as to unfairly impede anyone's religious practices.
Frankly, it makes sense that the Supreme Court's ruling of 1962 remains in place, effectively preventing school officials or teachers from leading students in classroom prayer.
Now before you pick up the phone and cancel your paper or organize a protest over that statement, please consider the fact that reversing that decision would open the door to any prayer. While we are tightly cinched inside the Bible Belt, make no mistake. Not all teachers are self-avowed Christians. There are agnostics and atheists teaching our children, just as there are teachers who practice any number of the world's religions. Allow Christian prayer led by teachers, and you must afford a Wiccan teacher the same privilege.
Far better to allow students to decide when and if they wish to pray during school. And to whom. School is where students can and should learn about various religions. Home, church, temple, synagogue remain the best settings for growing in and practicing one's religion.
As we have noted before, we suspect many a student regularly prays in school. Usually during exam time, perhaps, but it happens. And they are yet afforded opportunities to gather, whether between classes or in the cafeteria or at the flagpole. There are even opportunities to reach children through such church-structured programs as the Good News Club, which operates freely and openly here in Greenwood County. No child is forced to participate. It is a choice they and their parents or guardians make. No one has seen a need to shut that down, and we doubt anyone will. Or should, quite frankly, since it is not imposed by school officials. It's as much a voluntary practice as is membership in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
It is good that we can yet maintain and practice our various faiths in public schools. It is opening the proverbial Pandora's Box, however, when we seek to impose only one faith on the collective body of students in our schools.
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