Murray-Lasaine Elementary (copy)

Murray-Lasaine Elementary School Montessori upper elementary teacher Andrea Kozyrski works with her students on their reading and comprehension skills in January. Brad Nettles/Staff

There’s no getting around it. South Carolina suffers from a legacy of segregation and extreme poverty, thus its public schools consistently rank among the worst in the nation. Bold action is needed.

The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative wants to foment a revolution. In a widely circulated open letter to political, business and community leaders, it is calling on people in positions of power to reject the status quo and demand radical improvement. Nearly 300 people ranging from parents to CEOs and politicians have signed on to the effort.

“This is systems failure at its worst and at a very high cost in human potential. It is no longer acceptable, if it ever was to begin with,” the group wrote in its July letter. “Each year that we continue to accept the status quo, we continue to fail substantial numbers of our children and their families.”

John C. Read, the group’s CEO, rightly sees public education – human capital — as a critical part of the state’s infrastructure. On our current trajectory, “we’ll be in crisis,” he said.

With the economy booming, some industries, notably manufacturing, are struggling to find educated, skilled workers. But the business community, Mr. Read said, “has treated education like a charity when it’s really their own talent supply line.”

No one has all the answers, but generating a groundswell of support would no doubt help make education the state’s No. 1 priority. To that end, TCCC is working to organize a forum in which Gov. Henry McMaster and Democratic challenger state Rep. James Smith would stake out their education platforms. They should welcome that opportunity.

But to make real gains, everyday South Carolinians will have to come to terms with some hard truths. Low-performing school tend to drag down the state’s overall standing and, according to a 2017 Brookings Institution study, it costs more to educate disadvantaged children at the same level as it does middle-class children.

Mr. Read says his group is ready to do whatever it takes. That includes taking on Act 388, which starting in 2007 largely exempted homeowners from property taxes that support public education. That legislation, which shifted the tax burden to commercial properties, was a reaction to rapidly rising taxes fueled by a then-booming housing market. But in 2011, another law was passed that extended tax breaks to commercial properties when they change hands, further reducing the education revenue stream.

Lawmakers would be wise to revisit those two pieces of legislation. Education must have a stable source of revenue.

At the district level, schools need more flexibility to adopt models proven to improve student achievement like the innovative concepts at Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood.

The core message from TCCC is that “together, we can do better.”

Indeed, we must. And that starts with taking ownership of an education system in which Mr. Read says “no one is at fault, but everyone is responsible.”