Rural School Funding News: New Education Clause Proposed in South Carolina

Last Updated: April 01, 2008

This article appeared in the April 2008 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.
The ongoing effort to improve educational opportunity for all students in the state is taking a new direction in South Carolina. Last month, a bill was introduced to amend the state constitution to guarantee “a high quality education, allowing each student to reach his highest potential.” Currently, the constitution guarantees “a system of free public schools open to all children in the State.” In 1999, the state supreme court interpreted that to mean “a minimally adequate” education and went on to define various educational elements that must be in place.
At the legislative subcommittee hearing on the proposal, two dozen supporters spoke about the importance of the change, including Benjamin Burison, Chair of the South Carolina Rural Education Grassroots Group (SCREGG). As part of his testimony, Burison declared, “The time has passed for the 1895 state constitution to be changed to have appropriate language for what we want for students in our state. Words do mean something—words create ideas.” 
On behalf of SCREGG and Hampton Two School Districts where he is a school board member, Burison urged, “This bill should garner the support of all who support adequacy and equity in education for our students.”
Additional Efforts
An online petition drive is planned to support the legislative process. Supporters hope to gather one million signatures. If the legislature approves the measure, it will have to pass a statewide referendum to become law. 
Hampton Two, one of the plaintiffs in the Abbeville school finance lawsuit against the state, is currently on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Abbeville case, first filed in 1993, resulted in a trial court decision that found that the state had failed its constitutional duty specifically in the area of early childhood education. The resulting legislative response, a pilot 4-K (prekindergarten) program in some of the plaintiff districts, has been hailed as both a victory and a loss for poor and rural students. 
Rural advocates, including SCREGG members, have been a major part of the litigation and legislative processes and have worked on a variety of fronts to inform public opinion about school finance issues. These efforts include Corridor of Shame, a documentary film about conditions in the plaintiff schools, which was widely cited during the recent presidential primaries in South Carolina, and a follow-up photography exhibit and campaign entitled, “What About Us?” that highlighted the needs of students not addressed in the court decision. In addition, rural advocates have helped plan a march to the state capitol steps and two town hall meetings to bring public attention to the lawsuit.
Education Clauses Nationwide
The wording of education clauses in state constitutions has been widely studied by historians and legal scholars, especially as advocates began to use those clauses as a basis for school finance adequacy lawsuits. Studies have noted that although states often enact these changes in response to litigation, there is not a clear link between the phraseology and the quality of education in the state. You can read more about this important constitutional provision in “Education Clauses in State Constitutions” in RPM Premium Exclusives.
Read more: 
Local coverage on the subcommittee meeting:
Opinion on the amendment:

Read more from the April 2008 Rural Policy Matters.