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Home arrow Media Center arrow South Carolina needs to amend state constitution
South Carolina needs to amend state constitution

By Dr. Tom Truitt, Published in Florence Morning News (reprinted in the Orangeburg Times and Democrat)
June 15, 2008

A state’s constitution is a covenant between the government and the people. Since most of us haven’t read the South Carolina Constitution, we don’t know what it says about education nor understand why the education clause needs to be amended. But if we want to move from the bottom of the educational rankings and have South Carolina students prepared to compete in a global economy, we need to make a change in our state constitution. Here’s why.

Article XI, Section 3, of the South Carolina Constitution states:

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools open to all children in the State and shall establish, organize and support such other public institutions of learning, as may be desirable.”

Most states include qualifying phrases that establish standards for their education systems. For example, the Kentucky and Ohio constitutions contain the phrase “thorough and efficient.” The North Carolina Constitution guarantees “an equal education for all students.” Both Florida and Virginia include the word “quality” to describe the kind of education they will provide to their students.

But notice the absence of any qualifier in the South Carolina statement. You won’t find “minimally adequate” either, but that is the standard for our state’s students as determined by the State Supreme Court in 1999.

When 40, mostly poor and rural, school districts sued the state in 1993 over funding issues, the state asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that our constitution does not require a fair or equitable system, only a system. When Judge Thomas Cooper agreed with the state and dismissed the lawsuit, the plaintiff school districts appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

In April 1999, the state Supreme Court ruled that children in the state have the right to the “opportunity for a minimally adequate education.”

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for trial. Judge Cooper, who had earlier dismissed the case, then tried the case on whether the state was meeting its obligation to provide the “opportunity for a minimally adequate education.”

During the trial, the state attorney defined “minimally adequate” as “the least that will do.”

In other words, the policy of the state of South Carolina is to do as little as it can get by with when it comes to educating its children.

I disagree. A minimally adequate education is not good enough for our children and grandchildren.

If the generation of young people going through our state’s public school system is to be successful, they require a high quality education.

Sen. John Matthews introduced legislation to amend the education clause to call for a “high-quality education” that would allow each child to reach his or her highest potential. For the people to be able to vote on this amendment, the General Assembly has to vote by a 2/3 majority to place the amendment on the ballot in 2010.

Supporters of this amendment have organized a petition drive campaign to request the General Assembly to allow the people to vote on this amendment to the education clause of the State Constitution. This petition drive has a goal of 1 million signatures. Persons wishing to sign the petition to amend the State Constitution can go to http://www.GoodbyeMinimallyAdequate.com and sign the petition, or they can download a hard copy, sign it, and get other to sign it and mail it in to the address provided.

While it’s difficult to say precisely what changes would be effected by amending the Constitution, the General Assembly could revise the current funding system for education to ensure the resources needed for a quality education, or fund programs to ensure that all students have high quality teachers.

The General Assembly might revise the education budget schedule to one that would allow school districts to plan more effectively. A high-quality statement in the Constitution could have implications for curriculum and testing and a variety of other issues.

A constitutional amendment would provide a new standard or yardstick for measuring the effectiveness of our schools and set a high goal for the state.
History demonstrates that high goals lead to high achievement.

The process of amending the constitution also has value for selecting leaders for our state.

If we, as citizens, want higher standards for education incorporated into our Constitution, we can ask each candidate for state office where he or she stands on amending the constitution and then vote according to their answers.

We should not blame the General Assembly or the Governor for the shortcomings of our public school system. Our leaders ultimately act based on what they think the people want.

For too many years, South Carolinians have been tolerated minimally adequate education. We can change that to high quality if we have the will.

Dr. Tom Truitt, a 43-year career educator, is a retired Superintendent of Florence School District 1.

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