Court Decision Will Impact SC High Schools Part II

In Part I we touched on the broad issues that the landmark Manning case entails, and in Part II will look at the arguments of the rural school districts. We will also continue to keep perspective how this case relates, in small part, to the future of student/athletes at the Division I level.

Click here to read Part I of the series.

The very essence of this educational finance case being tried in Manning centers on the term "minimally adequate". The South Carolina State Legislature, who ultimately is in charge of the educational system in this state, has defined their role as providing the opportunity for a "minimally adequate" education to every student in the state.

The eight school districts (Allendale, Dillon 2, Florence 4, Hampton 2, Jasper, Lee, Marion 7, and Orangeburg 3) are alleging that the South Carolina Legislature is not properly funding their rural school districts at a level that will provide a quality education for their students. The argument the eight South Carolina school districts are currently making is that educating children "minimally" in rural and poor communities requires a great deal more money and resources than that of the wealthier districts.

In the state of South Carolina, funding is provided by federal, state, and local governments for each municipality under the Education Finance Act (EFA) and the Education Improvement Act (EIA). The EFA distributes its monies by using a wealth-sensitive formula where the appellants receive proportionally more state money than wealthier districts. The EIA distributes funds without regard to the school district's tax base, allocating all SC school districts the same amount of money per pupil. The appellants allege that the state's system of funding districts is biased and violates the state constitution's education clause under the state and federal guarantees on equal protection.

The rural districts admit they receive more money than those of the urban districts under the EFA. However, the districts claim that they need even more money because of the lack of revenue they acquire through their traditional tax base.

Complicating the dilemma of the court is the National Reform Law implemented by the Federal Government in the late 1990's. This law requires all school children to complete school work at a proficient level by 2014. While the federal government traditionally has not been able to directly exercise their authority on policy making in education at the state level, many states are heading this mandate and increasing the rigor of their school systems as we speak.

In essence, schools are being held accountable for a stringent improvement by the Federal government while the state of South Carolina lawmakers continue to delegate funding simply to "minimally" educate students in this state.

Facilities is a term we hear all the time in the athletic world. Better facilities are needed to attract better recruits. If we want the best football team in the country, we must provide adequate facilities to assist in achieving that goal. Sound familiar?

The rural school districts are playing a similar tune in the case. Last year in the trial, the school districts called a former principal to the stand who said his students were denied a good education because of poor facilities. Rex Whitcomb, a principal specialist and leader of the states middle schools, testified saying "If I lived in Marion School District 7, I would be seeking an alternative education opportunity for my children".

In the athletic world, you tend to have to pay a qualified coach appropriate money to take a job. If the job is going to be a tough one in a place that is traditionally not successful on the field, that payment may have to be higher to offer enough incentive for the coach to jump in. You have to make the job as attractive as possible, and that may mean opening the pocket book.

The same argument could be said for hiring the best teachers available. However, school districts in these rural areas don't have the luxury of paying substantially more to attract great teachers because they simply don't have the money. May Ceasar, a principal, testified she had a difficult time attracting and keeping good teachers at her school Schools in rural areas are often forced to hire teachers who are new to the profession or not certified in a particular field just to fill classrooms. This has been a common practice as part of the critical needs directive from the state which allows areas with a critical shortage of teachers to hire individuals who may not qualify otherwise. According to Janice Poda, 16% of teachers in the rural districts in this case hold interim certificates or critical needs certificates, compared to 9.4% statewide. According to the rural districts, the very students who need the great teachers the most are being denied a good education because the district is forced to hire warm bodies to fill the classrooms.

Even qualified teachers find that they may have problems in these districts because of the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the students attending these schools. Because these schools are predominantly African American and poor, relating to those students and their unique issues may be difficult for white teachers from a middle or upper class family. Paula Harris, district superintendent of in Allendale County, testified "I have good, intelligent, caring teachers in Allendale. They do not all possess the specific skills that would make them successful with our children." The ultimate end result of educating children is to offer them the opportunity to succeed in the work force. The school district enlisted business and industry members to testify to the courtroom during the early parts of the trial. Don Herriott, owner of a pharmaceutical company, testified "We aren't minimally preparing kids for the jobs that are out there. If the education system doesn't prepare you for work, the system isn't doing its job."

The school districts argument is quite clear and they have walked witness after witness to the stand to accentuate their point. They feel their students are not being educated and that it is the direct result of a state legislature that is under funding their districts. The districts will point to facility trouble, lack of ability in attracting qualified teachers, a lack of diversity in the teacher pool to choose from, and unrealistic expectations considering the resources given as reasons why they should be funded at a higher level.

The state, of course, will have a different view. And we'll touch on the other side to this coin in Part III.

What is pretty clear, however, is that the state of South Carolina is doing a poor job in educating its students. Not necessarily in Greenville, Lexington, Anderson, or York counties. But, most certainly, in many districts in the state including the eight school districts in the suit.

Whether that is the fault of the legislature for under funding the schools, or if it is the fault of the districts themselves for not fulfilling their obligation to educate their students given the resources available is still up for debate in the courtroom in Manning.

And, as stated in Part I, there could literally be hundreds of students each year who are missing out on the opportunity to get a free college degree by way of athletic scholarship if they simply had the education in the public schools to qualify them for post secondary education. And each student that is not taking advantage of that potential opportunity is costing us more than most of us could possibly believe.

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