|Minimallly adequate isn't good enough|
Opinion, The Beafort Gazette
Public schools districts, especially the poor ones, received their day in front of five S.C. Supreme Court justices Wednesday, seeking to answer the long-standing question of"minimally adequate" education in South Carolina.
A few weeks ago the General Assembly passed a 2008-09 budget in which 42.8 percent of the $7 billion goes to the Department of Education, along with about $700 million in federal aid, according to The State of Columbia.
Regardless of how the justices decide the argument, it is a moral imperative that S.C. lawmakers tackle the issue through the legislative process, not the courts.
Lawyers for several poor, rural school districts and the legislature delivered competing arguments about whether state government is meeting its constitutional obligation to deliver education.
Paul Khrone, executive director of the S.C. School Boards Association, wrote in the Gazette in April that, "The constitution is silent on the question of the level of education the General Assembly must guarantee, requiring only that the state maintain and support 'a system of free public schools open to all children in the state and ... establish, organize, and support such other public institutions of learning as may be desirable.'"
In 1999, according to The State, the court defined minimally adequate education required by the S.C. Constitution to include providing students adequate and safe facilities in which they have the opportunity to acquire the ability to read, write and speak the English language, and knowledge of mathematics and physical science; a fundamental knowledge of economic, social and political systems, and of history and governmental processes; and academic and vocational skills.
Since the ruling, lawmakers have substituted a sales tax for property tax to support school operations. A disparity among school districts still exists, but the question today really is improving education for all students. The state requires distribution of funding through a complicated puzzle, including the 31-year-old formula that sets the so-called base student cost, which this year rose to $2,578 per student. "Other pieces of the education funding puzzle include money generated by the 1-cent state sales tax increase approved in 1984, lottery money, federal money, local property taxes, and the state's reimbursement to districts for cutting some property taxes," according to The Associated Press.
Funding more than minimally adequate education could be financially painful, but South Carolina really doesn't have a choice.
As Khrone wrote, "The third annual Break Away South Carolina economic competitiveness report prepared for the state chamber of commerce and released recently had some dismal news for South Carolina.
"Economic competitiveness is down across a range of factors. One of those factors is education and workforce preparedness, which is improving steadily, the report concluded, but not enough to keep track with competing states."
Minimally adequate isn't good enough.
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