July 27, 2008

Education Panel Appointee Answers Critics

By Gina Smith, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Jul. 27--Newest member says government must be involved in reforms

Julie Hershey, Gov. Mark Sanford's latest appointee to the state's public education watchdog group, says she's been unfairly criticized for an anti-public school proclamation that she does not remember signing.

The president of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State said Hershey signed his group's proclamation -- favoring the privatization of public education -- at a 1999 Greenville event.

"There is virtually no possibility that she did not sign it, but there is every possibility that she would forget," said alliance president Alan Schaeffer, adding others also have said they don't remember signing the proclamation.

The California-based alliance is dedicated to privatizing all education. It wants to dismantle public schools in favor of private ones and home schooling.

Hershey's signature appeared below the statement, "I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education."

However, Hershey said she does not support that and thinks the state has an important role to play in reforming public schools.

"I don't remember ever signing a pledge or proclamation," said Hershey, who lives in Greer. "The first I knew of this was when it was presented to me by a reporter. I don't know anything about this organization. I've never gotten a newsletter from them or an e-mail or anything."

Hershey contacted the group and asked that her name be removed from its list, which it was.

Hershey, 56, is prepping to begin work on the 18-member Education Oversight Committee, made up of educators, business people and elected leaders. The committee reviews the state's public schools and evaluates their standards.

Hershey isn't the first Sanford appointee to become entangled with the pro-private school proclamation.

In 2006, Oversight Committee member Karen Iacovelli resigned after bloggers reported that she, too, had signed the pledge. Iacovelli cited health reasons as the reason for her resignation.


Hershey said reform is needed in public schools. But, she added, privatization is not the only possible solution.

"The biggest problem we have in schools is that the state does not have penalties for failing schools," Hershey said. "Instead, we reward it by throwing money at the problem."

The solution, Hershey said, includes more charter schools and a statewide school choice policy, providing taxpayer money to parents who send their children to schools of their choice, including private schools.

"Anything where the tax dollars follow the student is probably something that creates healthy competition within the system," she said.

Hershey, who works for a controversial abstinence-education program, did not send her three children to S.C. public schools.

While living in Michigan, Hershey took her children out of public schools and sent them to a private school. Hershey said she and her husband wanted a school with more academic rigor and a Christian-based approach to learning.

The Hershey children continued to attend private schools when the family moved to South Carolina.

"Unfortunately, too many people can't afford that choice," Hershey said. "And many are forced to send their children to inadequate schools."

Sanford thinks Hershey will represent an important segment of South Carolinians who want more choices for their children in K-12 education, said spokesman Joe Sawyer.

"We believe in the idea of having a variety of backgrounds and perspectives represented on the EOC," said Sawyer. "We think Julie certainly brings that, both with her private-sector background and her time as a trustee for both public and private educational institutions."

Hershey has been an Anderson University trustee and a Greenville County School Board member.


Since 1999, Hershey has worked as a regional director for Heritage Community Services.

The nonprofit, which works in schools teaching sexual abstinence until marriage, has received millions of dollars in state and federal money. But questions have been raised as to whether its programming is effective.

A 2007 federal study found that Heritage program participants were just as likely to engage in unprotected sex as those who did not participate.

Heritage said the federal study was flawed. It said its research shows students who go through the program start having sex at half the rate of those who don't go through the program.

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.


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