NEWS BRIEF: Can a Kentucky program help S.C.’s poorest schools?

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By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent  |  A strategy that has found success in Kentucky and elsewhere is being billed as a way for South Carolina to comply with the 2014 state Supreme Court decision to bring poor, rural schools up to standard.

If implemented, the Community School program would be operated through S.C. Department of Education, making $25 million in state grants available for poor, rural district schools and $100,000 in grants per year per school for operating at the school level. The program is focused on making schools a central focus of the community.

The S.C. Education Association (SCEA) recommended the strategy for complying with the Abbeville v. the State of South Carolina decision, which stemmed from a school funding lawsuit filed more than two decades ago by poor districts against the state.  In 2014, the S.C. Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to find ways to improve poor and rural schools.

National Education Association senior policy analyst Kyle Serrette presented the recommendation to lawmakers during an Aug. 23 meeting of the Senate Education K-12 Equity Committee. Since then, he has made other presentations in the state.

According to the presentation, the Community School strategy remodels schools through:

  • Developing a deep understanding of a school’s needs and assets;
  • Using improvement science, a method using inquiry to solve a specific problem of practice,with key stakeholders to develop solutions to problems; and
  • Forming partnerships with businesses, government agencies and nonprofits to meet identified community needs.

In the late 1980s, vast disparities in education existed in Kentucky and the state took a hard look at how it funded education. The state allowed districts to access state money to support the Community School strategy, which is identified as one of the programs that brought Kentucky to the nation’s ninth highest graduation rate and the 13th lowest dropout rate. The program has also been used in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Texas.


“The SCEA’s recommends the use of the Community School concept to improve education in our state based on evidence-based programs that have provided outstanding results in all the environments that have used it,” SCEA President Bernadette Hampton said in a statement to Statehouse Report. While Community Schools are not a new concept, The SCEA feels its current utilization can transform S.C. urban and rural public education districts and provide results that are best for all  students.

Here are some other designs of the program:

  • Culturally relevant and engaging curricula;
  • An emphasis on high quality culturally relevant teaching, not high-stakes testing;
  • Coordinated and integrated wraparound supports such as health care and social and emotional services;
  • Positive discipline practices such as restorative justice;
  • Parent and community engagement; and
  • Inclusive school leadership committed to making the transformational Community School strategy integral to the school’s mandate and functioning

MORE INFO: See the SCEA presentation here.



  1. Bernadette Houghton says:

    If South Carolina decides to implement this program, the Dept. of Education needs to hire competent program managers who will hold the grantees accountable for meeting the goals set out in the approved grant applications. As a former SC Dept. of Commerce program manager, I found that several of the grantees I monitored thought that getting a grant meant that they could do whatever they wanted with the money. In other words, the application’s goals could be ignored and the money re-budgeted to objectives in other programs.

    Further, I have always wondered why SC benchmarks against Kentucky. I understand that the state wants to match itself up with a state that is socio-economically similar, but there are a lot of best practices in higher-performing states that could perhaps benefit SC more.

  2. Carol Hillman says:

    I love the community-school concept. For
    years I was an evaluator of the 21stCCLC grants in PA.
    That was at a time when the feds let the districts move
    budget items around to meet different needs. Today things
    are so much more prescriptive. One district I worked with
    opened the after-school program to any child who was interested
    and because the children who chose to attend did not have reading
    or math deficits, the districts were unable to show improvement in
    test scores. I helped them fix their program before they lost their funding.

    Thanks for sending this, Carol Hillman

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