Quadri Bell, Tyler Baker take part in Education Reform Student Advisory Council meeting with state representatives
Chairwoman Rita Allison stands with students from the Education Reform Student Advisory Council, which includes Manning High School student Quadri Bell and East Clarendon High School student Tyler Baker. Other students, in no particular order, including Jerome Polite from Allendale; ZaTaveya Williams from Bamberg School District 2; Eddie Ramize McKenzie from Chesterfield; Marnija Lewis of Dillon County School District 4; Zateashma Blue of Florence School District 2; Amber Keefe from Florence School District 3; Titus Echols from Florence School District 4; Tonatzi Noriego of Jasper; "Jami" Reese Darling of Laurence School District 55; Kennedy Corley of Lee County; Leah Knight of Lexington County School District 4; Leah Anthony of McCormick; Erikqua Dash of Orangeburg School District 5; Mary Grace Lake of Saluda and Kerry Singleton Jr. of Williamsburg.
House Education and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, met for the second time Sept. 16 with the Education Reform Student Advisory Council, on which Manning High School Quadri Bell and East Clarendon High School student Tyler Baker both serve
The group met at Francis Marion University in Florence. The inaugural meeting of ERSAC was held in March after Allison formed the ERSAC with the purpose of gaining students' perspectives as the House of Representatives continues to reform public education.
Reps. Jay Jordan, R-Florence, and Roger Kirby, D-Florence, were also in attendance at the Sept. 16 meeting.
The meetings are just one component of the General Assembly's work in the past couple of years to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling that the state failed in its duty to provide what it says is a "minimally adequate" education to children in the state's poorest school districts.
The 3-2 ruling in Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina reverberated in 2014 across the political landscape and promised to provoke renewed legislative arguments over the state’s controversial education funding formulas and the financial plight of poor, rural districts, whose superintendents joined together years ago to seek more equitable funding.
The ruling comes after 21 years of contentious courtroom battles and legislative debate over the state’s responsibility to educate those who live in what became known, thanks to a documentary, as South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame.” Some of those court battles happened in Clarendon County.
“It’s been a hard pull and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Dillon 4 superintendent D. Ray Rogers, one of the last working superintendents in an original group of 40 school chiefs who raised the equity issue in the 1980s and 1990s, while speaking with The State newspaper.
"A kid that is born in Dillon, South Carolina – he or she shouldn’t have less of an education than someone born in a more affluent district," Rogers said.
The fact that a generation of school children has passed through public schoolhouse doors since 1993 — when 39 school districts filed an initial lawsuit in Lee County seeking equity in education funding — was not lost on the high court.
“Thousands of South Carolina’s schoolchildren – the quintessential future of our state – have been denied this opportunity, due to no more than historical accident,” said Chief Justice Jean Toal, writing for the majority, which included justices Donald Beatty and Kaye Hearn.
"The South Carolina House of Representatives is committed to reform our state's education delivery system so that every child can receive the best possible education in every part of our state," said Allison in a release. "Last session, the House passed seven pieces of reform legislation - four of which that became law - and budgeted millions of additional dollars in revenue o assist struggling, rural school districts.
Allison said that giving teachers and administrators the guidance necessary to provide students with a 21st century education is one of the state's "top priorities."
Part of accomplishing that goal, she noted, is getting input from the very students affected by the Supreme Court's ruling and the House's work.
"To stay connected with those in the classroom, I believe that our students need a direct line of communication with lawmakers," Allison said. "The ERSAC is comprised of more than 30 student representatives from each of the Abbeville lawsuit plaintiffs' school districts. The best way to get a grasp on our education delivery system is to talk with South Carolina's best and brightest students."
Allison said that school district superintendents are responsible for selecting one students from the ninth through 12th grade level. Students meet with Allison and other State House representatives four quarterly "to give young people the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns with elected officials," Allison said.
South Carolina Speaker of the House Jay Lucas said Thursday that the state has made "significant progress in recent years to reform our education delivery system," but that more work is still needed.
"Ensuring every child in every part of the our state has access to a 21st century education is a top priority for the next legislative session," he said. "I am extremely proud of Chairwoman Rita Allison and the work she continues to put forward to ensure that elected officials stay connected with our young people."
Allison said she has been quite pleased with students' work on the committee.
"The participants of this Student Advisory Council meeting were engaged and forthcoming, providing great insight to help lawmakers continue to improve education in South Carolina," she said.