By Barney Blakeney
South Carolina Department of Education Secretary Molly Spearman last week announced state takeover of Allendale County schools in a move that only scratches the surface of a festering sore deeply rooted in the state’s unwillingness to provide a quality education to all its students. Two local state legislators were asked their thoughts about the takeover.
Allendale County schools are among the 36 school districts that make up the infamous ‘Corridor of Shame’ along Interstate Highway I-95. Over 25 years ago the state was sued because it inadequately funds the those school districts which are part of the Abbeville County School District v. the State of South Carolina lawsuit. Twenty-five years later the legislature remains almost unresponsive to court orders to adequately fund the districts.
Allendale County schools rank among the five worst in the state. But its partners in the lawsuit don’t fare much better. In Allendale County School District 91 percent of its approximately 1,200 students live in poverty. And though the state spends about $14,000 annually per pupil, only 44 percent of it goes toward instruction. The district graduates some 79 percent of students, but just five percent score well enough to get into college. The state took over the school district in 1999 and kept control eight years until 2007. Ten years later Spearman wants to take them over again.
House Dist. 109 Rep. David Mack said until South Carolina’s legislature addresses issues that include poverty, healthcare and housing comprehensively, public education that produces a better workforce where industry can thrive will remain elusive. Making that point he asked, “How can a kid learn when his family’s being evicted? Until we tap those things that give people the ability to be productive, we all will hurt,” he said.
Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown said the legislature over the past two years has invested increasingly more money in education that barely moves most schools, especially those in the Corridor of Shame, toward minimally adequate funding as the S.C. Supreme Court ordered in 2014. Tens of Millions of dollars have been allocated to Allendale and other schools in the Corridor of Shame, but various factors such as administrative mismanagement and the inability to retain quality teachers impede progress, he said.
Alluding to Allendale School District’s lawsuit to prevent state takeover, Brown said administrators may be hurt and embarrassed by the takeover, but ultimately the long term benefits to residents and the state are unquestionable.
“Apparently we’re failing students. Community input and planning may have been missing the first time the state took over the district. Hopefully we’ll do better this time. Takeover may be shameful to students, the community and the school board. But there must be some improvements. If this does that, I agree with the state. We just have to hold them accountable,” he said.