Court Decision Will Impact SC High Schools

A landmark educational funding case is currently being tried in Manning, South Carolina and its impact could have major ramifications on high school student athletes. In Part I of this three part series, I will take your through the Cliffs Notes version of what is going on in this case and why that may have an impact on potential Division I athletes.

We are losing potential Division I student/athletes at an astonishing rate in South Carolina because these individuals are not getting educated in our system. In many cases, this is the direct fault of the student themselves and these articles will not focus on those individuals. This series will focus on the students who, to varying degrees, want to succeed in school but simply are not. All the while their athletic potential is being wasted away along with the opportunity to use their gifts to earn a college education.

A Brief History
Eight South Carolina school districts are now embroiled in this landmark case in Manning which could determine how the state funds education in the future. Those school districts are: Allendale, Dillon 2, Florence 4, Hampton 2, Jasper, Lee, Marion 7, and Orangeburg 3. The decision of the SC court will also have national ramifications because most states fund schools in similar ways that South Carolina does.

The districts are alleging that they are not adequately being funded to provide a quality education for their students. Their argument will focus squarely on the fact that they feel more money is needed in their poor and rural districts in order for them to properly educate the children they serve.

Lawyers for the school districts will reflect back on South Carolina Supreme Court case Briggs v. Elliott from 1954 that evolved when black parents complained that the public schools in Summerton were inferior to those provided to white children. The Briggs case was a decision that, in essence, challenged the historic Plessy v. Ferguson United States Supreme Court decision that ruled "separate but equal" schools were not in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The Briggs case eventually conjoined with several other cases around the country to form the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the 1954 Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This defining decision by the courts in essence overruled the Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" decision, forcing the integration of schools nationwide.

Why is this important? The courts have made it very clear that the "separate but equal" doctrine no longer applies. Each school district can be treated differently in regards to funding depending on specific needs that may apply. The rural school districts that are suing say they need additional funding than other districts with larger tax bases in order to properly educate their students. Legally, because of the Brown decision, the state legislature could allocate more money to these eight districts if the lawmakers chose to. Part II of this series will focus on the direct arguments the rural districts and the state are making in the case.

Failing Schools
Simply put, the 8 districts in this case are failing to educate their students. Test scores have proved that an inordinately high number of students are not receiving the basic proficiencies needed to graduate from high school and be a productive citizen. On average, approximately 55% of students in these districts fail to meet the minimum passing scores on the Basic Skills Assessment Program (BSAP) testing in this state. BSAP, otherwise known as the exit exam, must be passed in order for students to receive a high school diploma in South Carolina.

Of the approximately 5,200 students in the nine high schools that make up these eight districts, those percentages mean that as many as 2,800 students are in jeopardy of not graduating if they do not improve their scores before they graduate. These numbers don't even account for drop outs who never even take the test. It is estimated that as many as 20% of students enrolling in these high schools drop out before they even take the test.

Why is that important? Obviously, every student that cannot graduate high school has no chance of going to a four year college or university in this state. Using the estimates above, let's do some assuming. Let's say that over the next 4 years all 2,800 of those students currently not passing the PACT tests fail to achieve a passing score and don't graduate. National averages show that approximately 2-5% of high school students play athletics at the Division I level after graduation. Using the low end of 2%, that means that over the next 4 years 56 males and/or females in these 8 districts will be taken from the pool of potential Division I athletes. That is 14 per year, 14 potential football players, basketball players, softball players, wrestlers, etc. And that is only in these eight school districts.

Geography and Racial Break Out
The school districts that are suing the state are generally located in the I-95 corridor from the North Carolina border stretching to the Georgia border. The impact of the Brown case from 1954 in theory was to create a completely integrated school system nationwide.

Those principals, however, are not necessarily a reality.

The eight school districts (9 high schools) have a dominant African American influx at their schools. 87% of the students who attend these high schools are African American and 75% of the students are on a free or reduced lunch meal plan. Free or reduced lunch percentage is the common denominator for determining the level of poverty in a school. Jasper County High School has a 98% African American percentage at the high end and Dillon High School has 69% African American population on the low end.

Why is this important? The students that are in the suing districts are predominantly African American and poor. Obviously, these are exactly the students that need to be educated the most.

This profile also fits a relatively high percentage of football and basketball players that play at the Division I level. This area of the state is a fertile crop for potential big time Division I level athletes. However, other than Dillon High School, Timmonsville High School, and Holly Hill-Roberts High School you don't hear of many athletes coming form schools in these suing districts. How many football players has Clemson or South Carolina signed from Estill High School? How about Jasper County High School? Or what about Elloree High School? While a tremendous potential for many of the students in these schools may exist, how many of these opportunities are being wasted each year because the students are not being properly educated?

Looking Towards Part II
In Part II of this three part series, I'll look into what is actually going on within the arguments for both sides in this case. Clear battle lines are being drawn, and I'll break down the game plans for both sides of issue in Part II.

Part III in the series will deal with projecting the future in the aftermath of whatever decision the court rules in this case. What will the ramifications be? Who will be affected? Is it possible to better educate students in these areas? And, if so, could that mean a drastic increase in potential Division I athletes for Clemson and other schools to recruit?

Editors Note:
Much of the data used as research in these articles can be found at greatschools.net and at The State Newspaper. For extensive past and current coverage of this historic Manning case, log onto The State Newspaper web site at TheState.com.

CUTigers.com Top Stories