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COLUMBIA - Today, Clergy for Educational Options (CEO) organized a press conference at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Columbia where it was announced that an ad hoc group has been formed to explore funding opportunities and develop certain recommendations for potential Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO) that would be established through passage of the Put Parents in Charge (PPIC) legislation.
The "Exploratory Team" is comprised of Charleston Developer Thomas Ravenel, Former State Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nielsen, Morgan Stanley Vice President Ben Rast, Dispoz-O Products Director Karen Iacovelli, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine Publisher Henry Clay, Southern Assoc. of Black Independent Schools Exec. Director Rich Thompson, Center for Grassroots and Community Alternatives President Stephen Gilchrist and Executive Minister of Clergy for Educational Options Rev. Richard Davis.
Rev. Richard L. Davis of CEO spoke first, saying, "Yesterday, CEO officially endorsed PPIC and gave some recommendations for the legislation. Two of those recommendations dealt directly with SGOs and the need to ensure that poor families were the beneficiaries of whatever dollars were generated by SGOs. As such, we feel compelled to be involved in exploring the potential for these entities. We're happy to be a part of this group and I applaud these leaders for stepping forward to work with us to ensure that this legislation does in fact provide for those most in need."
Charleston businessman Thomas Ravenel spoke primarily on the importance of this effort. He said, "First, I want to give Governor Sanford and the sponsors of this legislation credit. As a businessman, I know that competition works in every aspect of our life, and will work to create a better educated populace in South Carolina. That's extremely important if we want to compete in today's global marketplace. These elected officials are to be commended for their willingness to push this market- based reform."
"It's imperative that the poorest among us have the same educational opportunities as those that are better off. A better education is the only way they are going to be able to compete in today's society, which will enable South Carolina to move forward economically. I see PPIC, and the SGO provision in particular, as a great way to make that happen. This group has been formed to help identify contributors and develop recommendations that will ensure SGOs succeed and help those that need scholarships the most."
Former State Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen expanded on Ravenel's statements, noting, "The SGO provision is the most exciting part of PPIC. For too long, our system has treated each child the same when it comes to education. We've got to move the education system forward so that all of our children receive the education they need and deserve. School choice will help us accomplish that goal, and SGOs are the mechanism to make choice available to all children - especially for poor children." Concluding she said, "There are some who say that school choice undermines the American Dream. I would submit that what undermines the American Dream is the lack of knowledge and skills of a majority of the population to be able to raise a family, have a good job and be a productive contributing member of society. Our goal should be to accomplish this for every child. SGOs can help in that capacity."
Rich Thompson, Executive Director of the newly formed Southern Association of Black Independent Schools, concluded the press conference by remarking, "Our association has identified over 40 Black schools that are working every day to accomplish many of the goals highlighted here today. But these schools and the parents need help. SGOs will help our schools grow their enrollments and give options to families that don't currently have any choice other than what the government provides. I commend these leaders for their support and involvement in this process. SGOs must be successful in order to make school choice truly equitable. I have every confidence that with support from these, and like-minded professionals, this will become reality for all South Carolinians."
The exploratory team looks forward to the passage of Put Parents in Charge and to network with other business leaders throughout the state to provide educational opportunity for all children in South Carolina.