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Home arrow Media Center arrow Butzon: Public education: We get what we pay for
Butzon: Public education: We get what we pay for

By JON BUTZON - Guest Columnist, The State
Saturday, Apr. 04, 2009

Sheri Few is right when she points out that “minimally adequate” is not in the state constitution (“Constitutional amendment won’t improve schools,” March 18). It is a phrase conjured up by the courts. It is sufficiently vague and ill-defined that it allows maximum flexibility and minimal accountability for those who should be held to the exact opposite standard.

It should be clear to anyone who is paying even casual attention that there are children in South Carolina who receive quite a bit more than a “minimally adequate” education; Newsweek says we have the seventh-best high school in the country.

At the same time we have the best of public schools, we also have a plethora of schools that arguably do not provide even a minimally adequate education. The data are clear. You can go to these schools and see it and hear it. Substandard, inadequate education persists for hundreds of South Carolina’s children. How does that happen?

There are many causes. One is that South Carolina has not staked itself out for its children. A constitutional standard would do that. We have not stood up as a state and said “Enough!” Our leaders have rationalized and equivocated. Our children, our business and industry, our social fabric and our state have paid the price.

Ms. Few is also right that the answer ought not to require litigation. The millions of dollars that the state already has spent in court preserving its right to do less than it should, less than it must, for its children is money wasted. The leadership of this state should not have to be forced to do what is not only the right thing, but the smart thing. History suggests, however, that without an unequivocal, loudly proclaimed standard for the education of the children of our state with the heft and impact of the state constitution, we will continue to educate some children very well while horribly under-educating many others.

I share Ms. Few’s concern for the inadequate quality of education afforded too many of South Carolina’s children. I admire her passion. I challenge her — I challenge us all — to use our passion and our influence to require the leadership of this state to forego inaction and to avoid the pathways of least resistance — such as vouchers and tax credits — and instead do the heavy lifting necessary to make any and every public school a school that reliably provides a complete and competitive education for every child.

Butzon is executive director of the Charleston Education Network in Charleston, which advocates for children and accountability to achieve excellence in public education.

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