Court Decision Will Impact SC Schools: Part III

In Part I we touched on the broad issues that the landmark Manning case entails, and in Part II we looked 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, and Click here to read Part II of the series.

Today, we will take a broad look at how the defense (the South Carolina State Legislature) will approach the case and rebuff the accusations of the rural school districts.

As many of you know, it is the State Legislature that is in charge of running public education in most states, including South Carolina. While the Federal government has used incentives and Federal monies as a dangling carrot to get public schools to adhere to their policies, the Federal government does not have the authority to directly regulate public education.

In 1995, the Federal government passed a National Reform Law in education that said every student in the United States will be proficiently educated by the 2014 school year. President George W. Bush has also pushed incentives and restructuring in the educational system as well during the first year of his Presidency.

The crux is, however, that George W. Bush and the U.S. Legislature do not have direct control over the states when it comes to public education. The state of South Carolina, as denoted in its constitution, says that the state legislature must provide students with the opportunity for a "minimally adequate" education.

The State Legislature's primary focus on this case will revolve around that theory of "minimally adequate". The state, in their own words, is not responsible for educating South Carolina's youths at a high level, but at a minimum level. The state is also going to argue that it is doing just that.

"How can we say it's OK to send them out ‘minimally adequate' when our (Federal) government is saying different," Margie Reed, instructor at Whitlock Junior High School testified at the beginning of the trial. Carl Epps, the attorney representing the rural schools, argued that a minimally adequate education "should qualify someone, when they complete their public school career, to become a productive citizen and enjoy things in America everyone should be able to enjoy."

The argument being made by the state reflects a concession that South Carolina schools are not perfect and are not teaching students as well as the citizens would hope. Test numbers prove students in South Carolina do not receive as good of an education as other regions of the country. The state, however, will also contend that the overall success of educating the children of South Carolina at a high level is most certainly not relevant to the outcome of this case because of the "minimally adequate" standards the state feels they are meeting.

Further controversy about the case stems from the "minimally adequate" definition as approved by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. "It frightens me we're drawing down the value of education by defining it as ‘minimally adequate'. That is a tragic concept," Paul Krohne of the South Carolina School Boards Association testified. The fact that the State Supreme Court has set such a low bar for what is determined as adequate places a tremendous burden on the school districts to prove they are indeed not meeting the standard in this particular case. However, regardless of whether the bar has been set too low or that the state should demand higher levels of learning, this case revolves around the state mandate of "minimally adequate". That is what the lawyers for the state have focused on during the trial.

The rural school districts have used the Briggs v. Elliott case of desegregation as a platform to argue the poor, mostly black, populations of the suing districts are at a distinct disadvantage in funding public education. Lawyers for the state contend that this is not a desegregation case such as Briggs case and, for that matter, a case involving race at any level. The lawyers for the state opened their arguments by simply stating the case is about providing an opportunity for the education of students, which is all the state is required to provide. Again, the theme surfaces from the state that their argument will not be about proving the South Carolina education system is in great shape, but merely doing a "minimally adequate" job.

A primary argument that is being made in the trial by the rural school districts is that they cannot afford to pay teachers enough money to entice them to teach in these rural areas. Therefore, the teachers that do take the jobs in these districts are not the best teachers available. The state argues there is no direct correlation between teacher quality and teacher education, experience, and specialty knowledge.

"Good teachers matter a great deal, but you can't tell the good teachers just by looking at their personnel file," Bobby Stepp, lead attorney defending the state said. Trying to tie student achievement to teacher's credentials is a slippery slope with many variables. The relatively low pay scale of the rural districts creates a difficult situation in trying to attract and maintain quality teachers, and no one would argue that statement. Trying to determine, and prove, if these types of teachers that are accepting jobs in the rural districts are not as good at teaching as their peers in other areas of the state is much more difficult to prove.

The state has provided witnesses and testimony that it is pumping more and more money into education across the state each year, even during difficult budget times. Senator John Matthews of Orangeburg testified that the legislature "is not doing its job, and I don't think it has any intention of doing its job," Stepp countered the claims of Matthews by showing that the state legislature has increased spending in education by nearly $1 billion since 1992. "They're unfunded mandates except to the extent that revenue has increased by 1,000 percent or so. Somewhere in these extra billion dollars over ten years, there's some money for these programs, right?" Stepp asked. And finally, the state is going to make the point that the districts themselves hold some accountability for failing to educate their students. If the state provides funding to "minimally" educate students in these districts and then if the students are not educated properly, that onus falls squarely at the feet of the districts and not the state legislature.

Now that both sides of the argument have been placed on the table, in Part IV I will offer my opinions as to what the outcome of this trial in Manning will be and how that may impact high schools from around the state. In addition, I will explain the potential impact that decision will have on student/athletes in this state and how that may positively or negatively affect their potential in being accepted into post-secondary education in this state.

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 here. Top Stories