S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.1028.ed.htm


Grassroots movement needed for education improvement
By Andy Brack, Publisher

OCT. 28, 2007 - - Charleston education advocate Jon Butzon said something at a meeting this week that struck home: Until it costs politicians more to do nothing about South Carolina's education system than it does to do something, not much will get done.

At present, there's not a great political outpouring for doing anything much differently, even with all of the education system's problems everybody knows about. If people want something other than more of the same, grassroots action needs to trump apathy.

Two years ago, state Judge Thomas Cooper ruled South Carolina had not provided a "minimally adequate education" to children living in poverty in districts along Interstate 95 - - the so-called "Corridor of Shame" highlighted by a documentary of the same name. Despite evidence of decrepit facilities and the need for better teachers in these districts, the judge also ruled that the state provided safe facilities and "minimally competent teachers."


Photo from Jasper County Schools

More importantly, he left it to the Legislature to make any changes to fix the system.

Prior to Cooper's ruling, lawmakers were shaking in their boots because they knew they faced a potential billion-dollar funding crisis if they were forced to fix rural schools that had been neglected for years.

After Cooper's ruling, they must have been jumping around in the backrooms giving each other high-fives. Since the ruling, they've invested $60 million to fund full-day kindergarten to 4-year-olds living in poverty. And while they've cooed and pandered with rhetoric, they've hemmed and hawed on real changes to make those schools - - and all of schools across the state - - the kind of places where people really want to send their children.

And today, because lawmakers have replaced local property taxes that fund schools with an increase in sales taxes, the burden rests soundly on their legislative shoulders to leapfrog into the 21st century with our public schools.

"As citizens, we need to get much more sophisticated about what advocacy means."

-- State Superintendent Jim Rex

It's not rocket science what needs to happen: a real investment in public education beyond what is done now.

What's clear to most people across the state, but apparently not to politicians, is that an investment of more money in winning strategies will make a difference in the lives of South Carolina's children. (Butzon wryly notes that politicians often claim throwing money at the problem won't fix it. But in South Carolina because we really haven't tried that strategy, how can it hurt?)

A comprehensive, 18-month study by the Riley Institute at Furman University highlights prescriptions for fixing the state's education system with which educators, business leaders and parents generally agree -- create smaller class sizes, involve parents more, start earlier with public education, provide better resources in classrooms, have tutoring for struggling students, invest in effective teachers, get better facilities and increase learning opportunities.

While the prescriptions for change aren't new, the fact that a huge sample of people - - almost 800 people gathered from every school district in the state - - had such consensus should send a clear message to lawmakers. They should hear that people want better public schools and fundamentally agree better schools are a priority.

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"The people are ahead of the legislature," said state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex in an interview. He said the Riley Institute study reinforced what he has heard over and over in hundreds of meetings with parents, teachers and administrators across the state in the nine months he's been the state's top educator.

"What I've learned is that doing the right thing too slowly is no different than doing nothing, in terms of results," he said.

In the coming legislation, Rex is expected to challenge state lawmakers to look at new ways to fund education across the state that may shake up things.

It's about time.

"It comes down to a situation of apathy and passiveness on the part of way too many people," Rex said. "As citizens, we need to get much more sophisticated about what advocacy means."

Two big things need to happen too.

Lawmakers need to understand that inaction or slow movement will cost them at the polls. But for them to understand, citizens need to get off the couches and hold them accountable.

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, can be reached at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary


Richard Furman championed religious liberty

Baptist minister and educator Richard Furman was born in Esopus, New York, on October 9, 1755, to Wood Furman and Rachel Brodhead. In 1756 the family moved from New York to Charleston, eventually settling in St. Thomas Parish. Furman was educated at home, and mastered both Latin and Greek. His penchant for self-education was recognized when Rhode Island College (later Brown University) awarded him a Master’s (1792) and Doctor of Divinity Degree (1800).

In 1770 the family moved to the High Hills of Santee, near the fork of the Wateree and Congaree rivers. Under the influence of a local minister, Joseph Reese, Furman was converted in 1771. Abandoning his Anglican upbringing, Furman embraced the evangelistic Calvinism of Separate Baptists. He was ordained on May 10, 1774, and served as pastor of High Hills Baptist Church (1774-1787) and Charleston Baptist Church (1787-1825). On November 20, 1774, Furman married Elizabeth Haynsworth. They had four children before her death in 1787. Two years later, on May 5, 1789, Furman married Dorothea Burn. His second marriage produced thirteen children.

Furman volunteered to fight during the Revolutionary War, but Governor John Rutledge persuaded him to plead the patriot cause among the Loyalists in western South Carolina instead. Furman’s success came to the attention of Lord Cornwallis, who, after capturing Charleston in 1780, apparently offered a £1,000 reward for Furman’s capture.

WEEKLY EXCERPTS

SC Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with an interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Each excerpt, which is used with permission and not for republication, is taken from The South Carolina Encyclopedia, a 1,077-page book published in 2006 with entries by almost 600 contributors and edited by noted historian Walter Edgar. We hope you enjoy this new feature.

An ardent champion of religious liberty, Furman met with a group of dissenters at High Hills in 1776. Their deliberations helped set the stage for disestablishment of the Church of England in South Carolina two years later. In 1790, as a delegate to the South Carolina constitutional convention, Furman supported extending the right of incorporation to all denominations. Furman greatly influenced the development of the Baptist denomination, although his fellow Baptists sometimes disagreed with his preference for centralized church governance. He was twice elected (1814, 1817) president of the Triennial Baptist Convention, a national organization of Baptists based in Philadelphia. He was also a founder and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (1821-1825), the first statewide Baptist organization in America.

Unlike some of his Baptist contemporaries, Furman stressed the importance of an educated ministry. He helped establish an educational fund to train Baptist ministers and also called for a national theological institution; the latter eventually led to the creation of Columbian College (now George Washington University). Other institutions that resulted from his influence were Furman University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mercer University. He died in Charleston of an intestinal obstruction on August 25, 1825. He was buried in the First Baptist Churchyard, Charleston.

-- Entry by A. Scott Henderson, The South Carolina Encyclopedia

lighter side
More of the same weather ahead

Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:

feedback
10/24: Leadership needed to strengthen state

To Statehouse Report:

Great column and wonderful factual summary of the lack of leadership and the pandering to voters conducted by our Governor and the state legislature. They are all too weak minded and weak willed to buck it up and face the facts that we must have revenue to strengthen our infrastructure and deal with some mounting problems in our state. These include crumbling roads and bridges, overflowing jails and prisons and little to no help for the mentally ill. We need leaders not tax cutters and government haters. Unfortunately the dominant Republican Party yields none of these.

-- Roxanne Walker, Greenville, SC

Recent feedback

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State needs affordable medical help, birth control, Roxanne Walker, Greenville, SC
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Dealing with drought
By Bill Davis, editor
Exclusive from the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

OCT. 26, 2007 -- South Carolina is facing years of tough and uncomfortable decisions thanks to the Southeast's population growth and a region-wide drought that dates back some 16 months.

Currently, all but two counties, Jasper and Beaufort, are under "severe" drought status, as drenching rains that watered the coast this week did little to cover dry lake beds and redden stream banks across the state. Upstate media reports say that area is up to 16 inches below normal for rainfall.

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Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. No republication is allowed.