BY AL DOZIER - The Free Times
Issue #21.47 :: 11/19/2008 - 11/25/2008
“We are in crisis and we are hardly talking about it,” says Bud Ferillo, speaking to an audience of about 200 at Columbia’s Shandon United Methodist Church on Nov. 16.
Ferillo is president of Ferillo & Associates, a Columbia public relations and advertising firm.
His award-winning film documented decrepit conditions of schools in rural parts of the state along Interstate 95: sewage seeping into hallways, roofs leaking and heating systems failing.
South Carolina’s “minimally adequate” public school system needs
higher standards, according to the producer of the highly acclaimed
Corridor of Shame documentary on the state’s poorest schools.
Struggling with a poor tax base, school districts in the corridor of shame find themselves scrambling to provide an education that many say is not even near adequate. Less than 50 percent of the area’s students graduate from high school.
Ferillo warns that more minimally adequate education in South Carolina will mean “more maximum security wards” in the state prison system.
The minimally adequate terminology comes from court litigation that continues over whether South Carolina is fulfilling its obligation under the state constitution to provide public education.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution requires the General Assembly to provide all S.C. children with a “minimally adequate” education.
In the 1990s, more than 30 poor, rural districts sued the Legislature, charging that it was failing to meet the requirement.
In 2005, state Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper ruled in the state’s favor, but asserted that more resources should be directed to early childhood education.
The decision continues to be challenged, and a final ruling could come within the next few months.
But Ferillo says South Carolinians should not wait for one.
He is leading a petition drive to amend the constitution with language that would require a “high quality” education. More than 20,000 signatures have been collected. (People can sign the petition at goodbyeminimallyadequate.com.)
To change the constitution and put the issue on a ballot requires two-thirds approval from the state House and Senate.
Ferillo says he believes that it will happen and hopes to see the amendment on the 2010 ballot.
Many education leaders say the main reason schools in poorer parts of the state do not have adequate facilities is that they must rely on their local tax base.
Ferillo credits the state with taking a step in the right direction with a 2006 law that provides some statewide funding for education from sales tax collections rather than property taxes.
But that switch has resulted in less money for districts whose property tax revenue would have been far greater than their funding from the sales tax.
Changing the way schools are funded is a priority for S.C. Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. He wants the General Assembly to address what he calls an “unfair, unbalanced, inadequate and virtually incomprehensible system of funding public schools.”
Rex plans to present recommendations based on a study of education needs and resources by two task forces comprised of business and education leaders from across the state.
Says Ferillo, “The majority of our students are not prepared for the workplace of today or tomorrow.”
States such as Florida, Virginia and North Carolina have changed their constitutional language and South Carolina should do the same, he says, to provide a new yard stick to measure academic success.