Guest op-ed: Bill Connor, "Hutto against people on FOIA, school choice"

This op-ed penned by Sixth District GOP Chair Bill Connor was also published in the Orangeburg Times and Democrat:

I was extremely disappointed to learn that Orangeburg state Sen. Brad Hutto has promised he will filibuster a bill expanding and simplifying Freedom of Information Act laws in South Carolina.

According to The Associated Press: “Hutto says he’s not objecting to the public records bill (meant to bring transparency to our government), but is rather part of a game of legislative chess in preventing debate on a private school choice bill.” When voters speak of ending the corruptions of a “good ole boy” system in state government, this case epitomizes those corruptions.

Interestingly, The Times and Democrat recently ran a fascinating letter by Bill Rogers about the troubling ways in which many public school districts abuse or ignore the laws governing Freedom of Information Act requests or stifle them through outrageous charges. Case in point was a 2008 report in The T&D that Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 Superintendent Melvin Smoak demanded $5,000 to provide the public copies of his 2007 travel expenses. It is outrage and frustration over such absurd behavior by school bureaucrats that is, for many, fueling support for school choice.

Sen. Hutto feels free to stifle transparency, despite the voters’ clear mandate in the 2010 elections, in order to shut down the democratic process of debate over an issue important to the voters of this state. Though many Democrats oppose parental choice with regard to their childrens’ education, the S.C. House of Representatives has passed this bill. It would not have passed the House without substantial support from the people of South Carolina, which Democrats realize grows every day.

This parental choice bill deserves to be debated in the Senate. During debate, Sen. Hutto or any other senator opposed to the bill will have the opportunity to argue against the bill. That’s what our founders intended when they established our republican system of government, not Machiavellian schemes that have hurt public confidence in our political institutions.

As the board chairman of a low-tuition private Christian school, Orangeburg Christian Academy, I am passionate about allowing this bill to be debated in the Senate. OCA is within Sen. Hutto’s district. When I returned from Afghanistan in 2008, I was asked to become board chair of OCA and have learned much since that time. I watched our hard-working parents struggle to make the roughly $3,000-per-year tuition while the school works hard to make ends meet. This, while our government has forked out 4-5 times the OCA tuition for each student in public school.

This “government” tuition is with taxpayer money coming from, among others, OCA parents. Fairness and accountability demand that we pass the FOIA bill into law and pass the bill giving some relief to these hard-working parents seeking a good education for their children. This is particularly true in our part of the state, where, despite receiving more per student than most of South Carolina, many public schools are at the bottom in test scores and graduation rates.

Those senators seeking to prevent even debate on some form of tax relief for private school parents are part of the problem all of us must fix. Hutto’s unwillingness to even debate parental choice on the Senate floor is an embarrassment to all living in his state Senate district, especially the children. We deserve better.

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