By Barney Blakeney
Last week the South Carolina Supreme Court in a split decision decided to end its oversight of the 24-year-old lawsuit against the state filed by school districts in the infamous ‘Corridor of Shame’. The court’s exit from the case leads some to say little can be expected of the legislature to fund the state’s inadequate schools.
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 those school districts – 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.
Three years ago the Court ruled that the state has failed to provide what it says is a “minimally adequate” education and ordered the legislature to develop a plan to improve those districts. But the legislature has failed to comply. In June South Carolina Department of Education Secretary Molly Spearman 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. With the Supreme Court exit, local legislators say things only will get worse.
Sen. Marlon Kimpson said he is disappointed. Without the court’s oversight, the legislature will continue its race to the bottom in public education, he said. The legislature has done little since the court’s 2014 order, but the legislature at least was aware of the court’s oversight. Now, without that threatening posture, there is little to give legislators incentive to act, he said.
“I’m concerned the court’s given the legislature to go backwards,” Kimpson said.
House Dist. 109 Rep. David Mack said there’s not enough commitment in the legislature to insure that every student in the state gets a quality education. Even the court only mandated provision of a ‘minimally adequate’ education, he noted. The longevity of the lawsuit is indicative of how seriously state officials consider the need to improve rural schools. The same unbelievable mentality that turned down federal funding for Medicaid propels the legislature’s inaction about public education, he said. All this means schools must become more creative in how they serve students, Mack said.
Kimpson said businesses will have to step up to the plate to develop the workforce they need. Good corporate citizenship through efforts such as the Manufacturing Alliance, a new initiative to impact tax revenue, job creation, high wages and community support for the more than 5,000 manufacturing operations that are the economic backbone of our state, will be even more important, he said.
In the meantime, Mack said voters must elect representation that serves their best interest. “There’s no downside to doing the right thing, deciding to provide all students with a good education,” Mack said.