Recent events suggest changes in South Carolina public education are likely. Across the state, serious discussions are underway about what is needed for immediate and longer-term legislative reform.
In Charleston, a diverse group of stakeholders has expressed what could and should happen (read the recommendations at CharlestonSharedFuture.org). They reinforce the conclusions of the Avery Institute’s racial disparities report, Clemson University’s diversity and inclusion study and The Post and Courier’s “Minimally Adequate” series. Most would agree further studies and reports are unnecessary and that it’s time for action.
Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative recently recommended a pay increase for all S.C. teachers whose pay is at least 5 percent behind salaries in surrounding states and well below the national average. High teacher turnover and a talent pipeline that is drying up make this an essential first step. Without highly qualified teachers in our classrooms, the talent shortages in high-impact clusters, such as advanced manufacturing, will only worsen.
We also support providing local school boards increased flexibility to create more than one innovative school per district, as long as the schools serve high-poverty areas and include community members in their decision-making processes.
Finally, we believe insufficient attention is being paid to the education and development of children 5 years old and younger. Just as direct-service programs in the region are sparse and unaligned, state programs are spread among multiple departments. We support legislation to bring state programs together under one roof.
More challenging work is ahead. It includes reforming education funding laws at the state level and practices that deploy dollars, talent and support at the district level.
All of the reports and studies are explicit: The vestiges of racial biases pervade the existing system and must be eliminated before every child can succeed.
Our initial recommendations do not address these concerns because we are, for the most part, “grass tops” leaders with limited lived experience with the inequity we know exists.
Before we can speak knowledgeably about what should happen, we need the voices of grassroot stakeholders (parents, teachers and students) to inform our work. We are taking steps to make that happen. We urge legislators from the tri-county region and across the state to do the same.
We don’t need the future of public education to be decided in Columbia without the full participation of those most affected by what happens in our schools.
We urge the governor and legislative leaders to take a page from former Gov. Richard Riley’s playbook to ensure all voices are present at the decision table. Only in this way can we hope to change the mindsets of citizens and civic leaders who, unwittingly or not, perpetuate the inequity that is delivered to our children.
John C. Read
CEO of Tri-County Cradle
to Career Collaborative