S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 3, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0403.shame.htm

State has moral obligation to fund rural schools
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 3 , 2005 - - When it comes to funding rural public schools, the state isn't doing enough. Just watch a gripping new documentary that's starting to make the rounds and you'll know why.

"Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools" should make you feel ashamed. It shows old crumbling rural schools where rusted water fountains don't work, ceilings fall in, sewage backs up during big rains, and rags are stuffed at the bottoms of rotting doors and walls to keep out the cold.

Not only are the facilities a third-world wreck, but poor, rural school districts have a host of other problems highlighted in the film: difficulties in retaining good teachers, an eroding tax base that can't keep up with needs, and a lack of modern materials, such as science labs, computers and new books that are readily available in wealthier school districts in urban and suburban areas.

About a dozen years ago, eight poor, rural districts decided they had had enough. They filed suit against the state for not providing a "minimally adequate" education for students in their areas, stretching mostly along the Interstate 95 corridor from Dillon County to Jasper County.

A spotlight shone on the issue during a trial that finally happened last year with more than 100 days of testimony. A decision is expected in the summer.

But most people didn't see the trial in Clarendon County. Many may not have understood the depth of the problems in these counties based on news reports.

But in just 58 minutes, the film by Columbia public relations professional Bud Ferillo changes that perspective. Not only does it show disturbing images, inadequate facilities and unacceptable conditions for learning in the 21st Century, it tells moving stories of parents who expect more from the state. It highlights teachers who are committed to help children. And it spotlights administrators who pull out their hair to try to offer the best they can.

"I have to look parents in the eye and say it's the best we can do," Dillon School District 2 Superintendent Ray Rogers says in the film. "It's not the best we can do and we're selling them short."

He said poor rural counties were appealing to the Legislature to help.

"Would they allow their children to go to school in the situations you have just seen? No. It's wrong and we need to do better."


McLEMORE'S WORLD: About the national debt

KEEPING TRACK: New section

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews



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Marva Tigner, the director of curricula of the Jasper County School District, told how her twin sons, both juniors in high school, face challenges.

"One aspires to go to Duke," she says, barely holding back tears. "Because he's being educated in Jasper County, his chances are greatly diminished."

Ferillo, whose project was funded by a blue-ribbon group of state philanthropists and leaders, said the dozens of interviews and days of filming the project, provided one of the most moving experiences in his life.

"I felt like I had wandered into some long- abandoned concentration camps, but instead of finding the morbid remains of tortured souls, I found angels - - men and women and children who strive for more under these conditions every day."

That statement wasn't political rhetoric. It was a fair characterization of what's really happening in poor, rural South Carolina.

"If we turn our backs on these rural school districts, we lose another generation," Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said in the film. "We'll lose our small towns and see them turn into wastelands."

Later this month, state lawmakers will get a DVD version of the documentary. Hundreds of other copies will go for free to libraries, school boards and community groups. A screening is scheduled for April 18 at Francis Marion University, along with later shows in Charleston and at Lander and Wofford colleges. On Tuesday, the film opens at Columbia's Nickelodeon Theater.

In May, SCETV plans to broadcast the film followed by a panel discussion, said SCETV President Moss Bresnahan.

The film, the result of an idea by former Santee Cooper chairman John Rainey, recognizes regardless of the results of the court case, state lawmakers have to do something to deal with the inequities of education in the state.

"The decision that our Legislature has to make is either going to doom rural South Carolina to poverty and second-class education from now on or we're going to stop and say we cannot leave a third of our population out there without adequate education," Rogers said.

For too long, state lawmakers have been taking a moral holiday on providing an adequate education for poor, rural South Carolinians. It's time for that to stop.

More info: http://www.corridorofshame.com


4/3: On the national debt

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


In this new section, we will keep track of Statehouse Report's record of forecasting what goes on in the legislature. For example, at the beginning of the year, a commentary called for no roads to be named for living officials. Sixteen days later, House Speaker David Wilkins introduced such a measure. Latest example:

In Statehouse Report:

3/20/05: "Siphoning public money for private education could lead to school resegregation, says the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, the much-respected African American minister at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston." More.

In other outlets:

4/2/05: "Now opponents say that tuition tax credits would in effect re-segregate the state's schools, with whites fleeing to provate schools and public schools becoming increasingly black." The Economist magazine.

10/17/04: Radar Screen: Changes ahead in House leadership? 4/1/05: Wilkins may be appointed ambassador, successors lining up, Post and Courier
3/13/05: Sanford's wolf tactics wearing thin on lawmakers 3/21/05: Governor's style irks lawmakers, Post and Courier


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

McIntosh. New SC Democratic Party Executive Director Lachlan McIntosh is going to need all the help he can get to bring the party out of the doldrums. More.

Rutherford. Hats off to Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, for proposing a smoking ban in SC restaurants. While the bill probably won't go anywhere, you've got to give him courage credits for trying.

Anderson Chamber. Congrats to the Anderson Chamber of Commerce for coming out to oppose the governor's school voucher program.

Thumbs down

Folks. The governor's press secretary, Will Folks, got in some hot water for what sounded like an implied threat to Anderson County Chamber officials for not supporting the governor's voucher bill. Folks denied making a threat, but later apologized. Why apologize if there's nothing wrong? More.

Drilling. Some folks apparently have in mind that it might be good to have offshore oil drilling in SC waters. That's a great way to attract more tourism dollars. More.

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In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get::

Hot issue -- an early peek at weekly commentary on something really big. Last year, we continually beat other news organizations in finding major trends in issues, from teacher and budget cuts to wetlands proposals.

Agenda -- a weekly forecast of the coming week's floor agenda

Radar Screen -- a behind-the-scenes look at what's really going on in the General Assembly

McLemore's World -- an early view of our respected cartoonist Bill McLemore.

Tally Sheet -- a weekly review of all of the new bills introduced in the legislature in everyday language

Scorecard -- A Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down of major political/policy events for the week.

Calendar -- a weekly list of major meetings for the House, Senate and state agencies.

Megaphone -- a quote of the week that you'll find illuminating.

To learn more about subscriptions, contact Andy Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com


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