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House Speaker charges panel with making S.C. public schools ‘competitive on the national scale’


Source: The State

February 23, 2015

COLUMBIA — S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas charged a panel of lawmakers, business leaders and educators Monday with making S.C. public schools “competitive on the national scale.”

The Darlington Republican – who grew up along the “Corridor of Shame,” so named for being home to some of the poorest schools in the state – has charged the task force with proposing education policy changes by early next year.

“Hacking away at ineffective policy will only yield minimally adequate results,” Lucas said at the task force’s first meeting. “Instead, focus on irrigating the desert. Focus on achieving what others think cannot be achieved.”

The task force, chaired by state Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, was formed in part as a response to a S.C. Supreme Court ruling in November, directing the Legislature to work with rural school districts to address persistent inadequacies. Those districts sued the state in 1993, alleging they did not get enough state money to educate children effectively.

Former Democratic Gov. Dick Riley, two former state school superintendents – Republican Barbara Nielsen and Democrat Inez Tenenbaum – and two legal scholars gave the panel pointers Monday on where reforms are most needed and how to work with the court to achieve them.

Riley said the state’s poorest school districts have “slipped backward” in the past 20 years since suing the state.

Nielsen said the dozens of pots of money that pay for schools make it difficult to know whether children are getting the resources they need in the classroom, encouraging the panel to recommend simplifying that funding system.

Nielsen also said salaries for teachers need to be increased. Some make so little, she said, that they qualify for food stamps. “I meet too many teachers who have to work two jobs just so they can support their families.”

Tenenbaum said the panel should push for state money to help pay for building improvements. Some districts cannot afford to renovate existing schools or build new ones without aid from the state, she said.

The task force meets again on March 23 in Dillon.



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