South Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on South Carolina welcoming veterans
Bill Connor — Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney — wrote recently about the University of South Carolina board’s rejection of presidential finalist retired Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.
Caslen, who recently served as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, was the target of student protests regarding remarks about preventing sexual assault on campus. Subsequently, the board removed him from consideration for the presidency.
“Veterans in South Carolina, particularly we veterans with service in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, took the protest and dismissal of Caslen as a slap in the face. The protesters’ claim that Caslen’s ‘entire career’ was ‘counter to the values of the university’ was spitting in the face of the military in South Carolina.”
Caslen said of the outcome: “After what I experienced last Friday, who would want to go back to an environment like that?”
Though Caslen’s reference was specifically to the university, Connor said the entire matter reflects badly on South Carolina, its military tradition and its important ties to the military.
South Carolina is home to eight major military installations and more than 417,000 military veterans. That includes one of every 10 adults in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
About a quarter of South Carolinians are directly related to the military. The economic impact to the state exceeds $24 billion annually, comprising more than 8% of the state’s economy.
And while it is not likely to get the attention of the Caslen protest and rejection, recent action by state leaders shows the state is determined to be military-friendly.
On April 30, Gov. Henry McMaster signed legislation to create the South Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We’re changing a name, changing a focus, changing a context and promoting the vision of veterans’ affairs to a full-fledged agency in South Carolina,” McMaster said. “It’s important that our veterans, through a cabinet agency, have the status, attention and focus they have earned through their service to our state and country.”
The mission of the new cabinet agency also incorporates the South Carolina Military Base Task Force, which was established through executive order by former Gov. Nikki Haley to enhance the value of our state’s military installations, as well as the quality of life for military personnel and their families. The task force has coordinated efforts among public and private sectors to maintain a significant U.S. Department of Defense presence in South Carolina.
“The new Department of Veterans Affairs will work with federal, state and local partners to connect veterans to programs and services they deserve and are entitled to,” said Lexington Sen. Katrina Shealy, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Family and Veterans’ Services and a sponsor of the bill. “It will also codify and strengthen the Military Base Task Force, which helps South Carolina enhance the lives of service members and veterans, and protect the valuable investments in our state.”
Medal of Honor recipient M. Gen. James Livingston of Mount Pleasant, in his remarks at the bill signing, said the new agency is a major step forward. He said it is step one in encouraging veterans to settle in South Carolina. Step two would be passage of legislation to complete the full exemption of state tax on military retirement income, he said.
South Carolina welcomes veterans and wants them served well.
As task force Chairman Bill Bethea stated: “This act elevates the issues of veterans and the military to the executive level, which demonstrates that our state’s commitment to serving veterans and supporting our nation’s defense is second to none. We are very grateful for the governor’s leadership and the General Assembly’s support to accomplish this major advancement for our veterans and military.”
The Post and Courier on education reform:
There’s a lot of disappointment about the Legislature’s failure to deliver this year on its promise of transformational reform of South Carolina’s education system, particularly but certainly not exclusively among teachers. It’s easy to view legislators’ pledges to make those major changes as a delay tactic, a promise of a next year that never comes.
But a wonky report released the day the Legislature completed its regular session could hold the key to generational changes in the way we fund schools and, even more importantly, the way we understand what we are funding and what we’re getting in return. It should lay the groundwork for changes in governance and accountability measures and teaching methods and all of the other needed reforms that go far beyond funding. And if it lives up to its promise, it will be extremely difficult for the Legislature to ignore.
The state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office’s education funding report comes in response to a January request by Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Harvey Peeler for “a new, updated funding model to guide state appropriations and local school district expenditures for public education in order to improve efficiency, transparency, accountability and affordability.”
It is not complete, and even when it is, perhaps in the fall, it won’t tell us anything about how to get parents more involved in their children’s education or how to inspire those kids whose parents aren’t involved.
It won’t tell us what tests the state ought to mandate or what tests it ought to prohibit districts from administering.
It won’t tell us whether we should move more schools toward Montessori or new-tech or other models, or how to capitalize on the promise of charter schools without falling into the trap of separating out the students with the most active and engaged parents and leaving the others in educational ghettos.
What it will do, according to the May 9 status report, is show us precisely what we are spending per student — which no one can agree how to quantify now because we have competing ways to measure it, none of which is adequate.
It will show how much of that money goes to instruction, to administration and to facilities, which is possible but extremely tedious to calculate now.
It will eliminate complicated student weightings that are supposed to provide the extra money it costs to educate, say, a poor kid, or a child who is blind or who has learning disabilities; they’ll be replaced by formulas that take into account the cost to employ a special-needs teacher, or speech therapist, and how many hours of specialized education each student needs — information that’s already available on federal reports but not used by state budget writers.
And it will provide this information not only at the state level but also at the district level and, eventually, in each school.
By doing that, it will do on the funding side what the state’s Education Accountability Act was supposed to do on the academic side: Unmask the averages that hide the failures and the successes, and pinpoint the areas that need attention.
The new model isn’t designed to show us what should be; that’s a policy question. Once officials have confirmed their numbers and gotten feedback to make sure they aren’t overlooking or misunderstanding anything, it will show us what is. And with that information, it will be a lot easier for lawmakers to answer the policy questions, to determine what should be — and a lot more difficult not to act on the answers.
Which is essential, because we simply can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve always done.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on complaints about the South Carolina Public Service Commission:
A lot of factors went into SCE&G and Santee Cooper spending $9 billion on two nuclear reactors that will never be completed: the Legislature’s decision to upend state law in order to facilitate the construction project, SCE&G’s efforts to conceal problems with the project from regulators and the public, Santee Cooper’s refusal to blow the whistle on its construction partner.
But the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant expansion never could have gone so bad if the South Carolina Public Service Commission hadn’t given SCE&G the benefit of the doubt, time after time, and looked the other way as critics raised questions about the utility’s claims. That is, it couldn’t have happened without a regulatory agency that wasn’t interested in regulating.
It’s against that backdrop that we welcome Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good’s recent assessment of the Public Service Commission: “It’s clear the regulatory and related business environment in South Carolina has changed, and this will affect the investment climate in the state, in our industry and in others.”
Ms. Good’s comments on an earnings call to shareholders came in response to the commission’s refusal to let Duke’s two utilities charge ratepayers $242 million in coal ash cleanup costs. It came in the wake of regulators’ criticism of executive compensation that was “excessively high” and a utility that was “tone-deaf” to the political climate in South Carolina.
As environmental attorney Bob Guild put it: “If this is a new trend, it’s a trend in the right direction.”
Mr. Guild noted to The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown that utility commissioners are supposed to be “aggressive regulators,” not “passive, neutral observers.”
But that’s precisely what they have been — largely because that’s what the Legislature wanted them to be. Our lawmakers elect the members of the Public Service Commission, legislators have always been stridently pro-utility and anti-regulation, and they became even more so early this century, as visions of a nuclear renaissance started dancing in their heads. They passed a law that shifted the risk of building nuclear reactors from the utilities to their captive ratepayers, made it virtually impossible for regulators to turn down the utilities’ rate hike requests once they gave the initial OK to begin construction and even replaced the state agency that was supposed to protect ratepayers in contested hearings with one that was required by law to balance the interests of ratepayers and utilities.
In all of this, our lawmakers apparently forgot why they had created utility regulators to begin with: to act in place of the free market, to protect customers from the monopoly that we gave utilities because it was prohibitively expensive and potentially dangerous to trust free-market competition to work in the utility sector.
We don’t know whether technology has advanced to the point that it’s no longer prohibitively expensive to allow competition in the utility industry, although we believe lawmakers need to seriously explore that possibility. But we do know this: If you don’t want utilities to be subjected to state regulation, the solution is not to simply let utilities do whatever they want. It’s to break up the monopolies, and allow customers to pick the utility they want, rather than having to take the one they’ve been assigned.
Unless or until the Legislature sees fit to allow energy competition in South Carolina, we need that new regulatory environment that Ms. Good finds so troublesome.