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Can Education Turn Our Red State Blue?

“We don’t need no education” -Pink Floyd

As an educator, I should be appalled at the comment. Actually, we all should be – especially those of us who make South Carolina our home because it’s no secret that our state has one of the lowest education rankings in the nation.

It’s also no secret that South Carolina is a deeply red state. Is there a correlation between education and voter preference, and can a better educated South Carolina turn our red state blue?

Most people who find themselves affiliated with one party or another do so based upon their educational background, with the more highly educated, and presumably more informed, voters calling themselves Democrats. Yet, the poorly educated are overwhelmingly Republican. Certainly, there are exceptions — big business execs, uber wealthy individuals who benefit from his unfair tax cuts, and others. But, in my view, the generalization is valid.

All of this begs the question: Could there be a more nefarious reason behind the failing school systems in South Carolina? Could Republicans purposely underfund education in order to maintain their hold on power?

Low Teacher Pay and the Legacy of Segregation

On May 1st of this past year, thousand of South Carolina teachers and supporters marched on Columbia, demanding better wages and better working conditions. They were also protesting the promised ten percent wage increase that had been winnowed down to a mere four percent. This as South Carolina ranks near the bottom of the scale when it comes to teacher salaries and faces widespread teacher shortage.  Last year alone, almost seven thousand teachers quit.

And yet, lawmakers refuse to address this adequately.  What could be behind this? Could it be that by keeping schools underfunded, they are making it more difficult to have a well informed electorate, thereby cementing their hold on power?

The history of education and segregation in the south suggests this could well be the case. After all, in South Carolina it was once illegal for Blacks — slaves — to go to school. And the state is known for its “Corridor of shame,” counties across the heart of the Palmetto State that are known for their neglect of public education and segregationist practices.

Sadly, this is not just a South Carolina problem. If you look at the statistics, most of the low-performing states are Republican controlled. You would think there would be a public outcry to this issue, but by keeping the public uninformed, it permits lawmakers the luxury of keeping their jobs.

Trump Loves the Poorly Educated

And keep in mind the attitude and policies of President Trump. When he was a candidate, he boldly — and cynically — stated “I love the poorly educated” while campaigning in Nevada. And why not? Being poorly educated means you will do little research. Not surprisingly, a majority of his base is indeed poorly educated.

Could that be why he selected the wholly unqualified Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education? DeVos is an advocate for school choice, which means diverting much needed funds from deteriorating public schools to for-profit private institutions, as if she were trying to take us back to the “separate but equal” days of the old South. She has no education degree or teaching experience, yet is setting policy for our educational system.

Instead of relying on facts, the poorly educated depend upon right wing media outlets, such as Fox, for their slanted information, and Trump is only too happy to reinforce this notion by Tweeting conspiracy theories spread by these same outlets. The vast number of Trump supporters who cite ratings over facts to justify their claims is nothing less than shocking.

Education: Red State, Blue State

What if we turned things around?  What if we made it our mission to inform the public of these shortcomings? Would they listen?

We need to reverse the trend in South Carolina. We need to educate the public and support our teachers so they can do the same.

Perhaps this is the key to turning our red state blue.

To learn more, please check out this video in which the author, Chris Waldron, and HCDP Communications Director Bob Gatty discuss Waldron’s conclusion that improving public education is a key to turning red states blue.

CJ Waldron is an adjunct professor at Horry Georgetown Technical College and a contributing Writer for the Horry County Democratic Party where he covers a variety of Democratic issues, news, and commentary. Opinions and viewpoints expressed in his articles are solely his own.
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