Outgoing schools chief touts public innovation

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COLUMBIA --- South Carolina's outgoing school chief says he's proud of the innovations and progress made during his tenure in spite of the deep recession.

Superintendent Jim Rex's single term in office has been marked by an expansion of choices within the public school system, as he championed that and opposed a continued push by some Republicans to help parents send their children to private schools -- an effort expected to be revitalized in the next administration.

The idea has failed repeatedly since Gov. Mark Sanford first proposed it, and efforts have waned in recent years. But the election of former Newberry College president Mick Zais puts a Republican in the office for the first time in 12 years.

Both he and Gov.-elect Nikki Haley have been strong advocates of giving tax credits to people and businesses for private tuition assistance.

Rex, the lone Democrat in statewide office, says he recognizes student achievement is not improving fast enough.

"But we've proven in South Carolina, in the most difficult set of circumstances, we can improve public education," he said. "We've also proven we can give parents choices within public schools, and parents want it, want more of it, and kids succeed in it, so we should be doing more of that."

Four years ago, Rex pledged to make South Carolina the nation's most choice-driven public school system. Without directly answering whether he's fulfilled that promise, he notes the state is recognized nationally for education innovations.


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