|School funding levels questioned|
By Bristow Marchant, The Clinton Chronicle
Is your child's education "minimally adequate"?
That was the question asked Thursday during a presentation at Presbyterian College, and the answer depends largely on where you live.
As documented in the film Corridor of Shame -- which aired on SCETV in 2005 and was screened to an audience of students as part of Thursday's presentation in Edmunds Hall -- South Carolina's smaller, rural schools are often underfunded to the point of being unable to meet even the minimal requirements for public education laid out by the state constitution.
PC junior and education major Natalie Barrineau was inspired by the film about crumbling schools along the I-95 corridor to visit different schools in South Carolina to find out how education differed around the state and why.
"This is the third time I've seen the movie, and it still shocks me," Barrineau told the audience as she presented her findings after the screening. "The data shows a clear correlation between poverty and performance."
The corridor is one of the poorest areas in the state, Barrineau said. The average income is between $25-30,000 a year; unemployment is the highest in the state, reaching 10 percent or more in some counties; and up to 40 percent of the local population lives below the poverty line.
Barrineau visited Estill Elementary School in Hampton County, where 32 percent of children live in poverty. Estill's student body is 97 percent black, and the same percentage qualifies to receive free lunches.
Like many of the schools profiled in Corridor of Shame, half of students at Estill are ranked "below basic" by state standards, and the school struggles to recruit teachers who can make up to $4,000 more in richer coastal school districts.
"This is a job to them, and they want to make money," Barrineau said. "Most teachers don't know about the backgrounds most of the students from these schools come from. They don't know what they're getting into."
She also visited Midway Elementary School in Lexington County, where poverty and unemployment are much lower and the average income is $15,000 higher. At Midway, a majority of students rank as either "advanced" or "proficient" in state testing standards.
Barrineau concluded that poor schools in these areas are part of an "unbroken cycle." Children who attend schools without proper resources will be less educated and less prepared to enter the workforce at anything but the lowest income levels.
The lack of a qualified workforce discourages high-income businesses from investing in the area, hurting the local economy and the tax base needed to pay for things like good schools.
Bud Ferillo, the director of Corridor of Shame, told the audience improving education is a necessity in a global economy.
"The U.S. ranks 24th in education worldwide," he said. "There's much more involvement in education in China, India, Japan, Germany, some of the countries we beat 50 years ago."
Barrineau and Ferillo encouraged those who want South Carolina schools to do better to petition state legislators to improve the education standards spelled out in the constitution.
The petition at goodbyeminimallyadequate.com would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for the 2010 election, something Ferillo said would put a needed emphasis on an issue important to the state's future development.
"If new jobs haven't been created," he said. "We'll be back working in the cotton fields and the mills, like this is a third-world country."
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