Ellen Weaver

Testimony to the SC House Education & Public Works Committee

January 23, 2015

Ellen Weaver

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today for a few minutes to give a thumbnail sketch of Palmetto Policy Forum: why we exist and ways that we hope to serve as a resource for this Committee.
I come here personally today not as an academic policy expert but as someone who loves our home state of South Carolina and believes passionately that the path of opportunity both for our people and our state starts with bold, big picture thinking about how we put together key puzzle pieces for South Carolina’s future. We focus on the issues of energy, health care, tax & budget policy…and of course, righting the injustices of our education system, which is why I am here talking with you today.

Like many leaders in our state, we believe it’s time to reboot and fundamentally rethink our system of education: how we fund it, how we measure outcomes and most importantly, how we truly elevate and support teachers…because a system never taught a child!

Our philosophy of public policy could fairly be categorized as conservative. Now I know some of you reflexively roll your eyes at that and are about 2 seconds away from tuning me out. But let me explain what I mean…

First, our solutions-oriented approach is rooted in a belief in the inherent dignity of ourselves and everyone around us. We believe that human nature responds rationally to incentives – both positive and negative – and I dare say that anyone who doubts this has probably never been a parent!

Which means that for us, good intentions in public policy aren’t enough. We have to look at what works and what doesn’t, create accountability measurements that measure the right thing – in the case of education, student success – and look around our state and beyond for best practices that are creating high student achievement.

Second, our default setting in education policy will always tend towards pushing dollars and decisions back to the classroom and family level.

These are the philosophies that we bring to all of our work: a best-practice thinking that strives to apply new solutions to old problems – which we call policy entrepreneurship – and get beyond the predictable political back and forth to focus on what actually works. We aim to be problem-solvers, not pot-stirrers. And like Superintendent Spearman, we believe in a collaborative approach in so far as possible.

In that vein, over the last several months we have convened a group of like-minded education advocates, which we call the South Carolina Coalition for Education Opportunity. Many of them are here today and they all share our passion for deep, sustainable, student-centered education transformation in this state.

As an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization, we exist to provide you and the citizens of South Carolina with well-research public policy information. We do this in several different ways that I’ll mention briefly:

Next week, the South Carolina Coalition for Education Opportunity will be joined by hundreds of parents, students and education professionals here at the Statehouse on Tuesday, January 27th at 11:30 AM on the South Steps of the Statehouse for our My SC Education Rally to celebrate National School Choice Week. We’ll be celebrating ALL forms of choice: public, private, virtual, homeschool, public charter, magnet and more. I hope you’ll plan to join us and get your yellow scarf. However, fair warning: don’t wear a black jacket – they shed!

We bring the best minds to the table, both from South Carolina and beyond, like what we are currently doing in coordinate with the Department of Education to help make sure that the good policy you passed with Read to Succeed is implemented well…because implementation is where the rubber really meets the road.

So next week, on Thursday, January 29th at Noon (or as soon thereafter as the House adjourns) in Blatt 305, our Coalition will be hosting a lunch ‘n’ learn event to considers the policy implication of the Abbeville decision. Titled “Fund Students, Fix Systems,” we’re bringing together top state and national experts to discuss our current funding structure and look at cutting-edge funding and governance innovations happening around the country. I hope you all received this Dear Colleague invitation last week, but I brought a few extras in case you didn’t see it and are interested in attending.

We also publish resource publications from full on policy papers like our comparison of education outcome in Florida and South Carolina, which helped inform the Read to Succeed legislation, our common sense paper on Common Core that helped provide a roadmap for to pushing back on potential federal control of our standards…and more.

We also publish must shorter publications called Fast Facts for quick consumption like this “10 Ways to Supercharge Education” paper that summarizes much of our longer research.

And last but not least, we are particularly proud of our award-winning Empower Opportunity – a resource catalog designed to inform parents in South Carolina about how to access ALL the options that are growing in South Carolina, thanks to the past work of this Committee. In this publication, we highlight success stories from real South Carolina families who are using each of these options and show how school choice in all its many forms is delivering real results where it’s tried…and we hope to see this choices expand even further in the session before us. All of these publications can be found at www.palmettopolicy.org.

In closing, having celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. day this week, I’m reminded of his famous quote about the “fierce urgency of NOW.” Our kids in South Carolina can’t wait another 20 years for us to come together to address the education challenges in our states. We’re excited to work with you this session and beyond to take them head on.

Thank you.