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Home arrow Media Center arrow Senators want S.C. Constitution to reflect strong support for public schools they say is missing now
Senators want S.C. Constitution to reflect strong support for public schools they say is missing now
By This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ; The State
Friday, March 14, 2008
SC State House
SC State House
Two dozen people spoke for about two hours Thursday before a Senate panel, with all but one urging lawmakers to amend the S.C. Constitution to declare stronger state support for public education. More than 100 years after ratifying the Constitution of 1895, South Carolina remains embroiled in a battle over its commitment to public education.

A 1999 Supreme Court ruling determined the state Constitution only requires the Legislature to provide its residents a “minimally adequate” education.

Those speaking to the Senate Judiciary panel Thursday want to change that.

“The language of the Constitution is silent on the quality of education we should provide,” said Sen. Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg, who chaired the public hearing. “We’re wrestling with this because words do mean something.”

The Senate resolution would change the Constitution to read, “The General Assembly shall provide ... a system ... that will provide a high quality education, allowing each student to reach his highest potential.”

Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, lead sponsor of the measure, said such a change is important. “The significance of the language is that it changes the 1895 Constitution,” he said. “That was an era that ushered in Jim Crow for the state.”

The existing state Constitution lacks a mission statement that reflects the positive educational hopes a state ought to hold for its children, Matthews said.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said more than words are needed.

Ford predicted a constitutional amendment would be passed by the General Assembly and be approved by voters at the polls.

“That’s a no-brainer,” he said. “What then?”

Ford said lawmakers, when it comes to public education, historically have been unwilling to stand behind what they put on paper. A judge is still mulling a lawsuit eight rural school districts filed against the state alleging it had not done enough to support poor, rural school districts.

More hearings will be scheduled on the amendment, senators said. It is unclear whether the question would appear on the ballot this November or would have to wait.

Proponents said they plan a drive to collect 1 million signatures in support of the bill to change the Constitution. A Web site, goodbyeminimallyadequate.com, is under construction to help the petition drive.

Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398.

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