Plenty of obstacles stand in the way of improving schools in the state’s poor, rural districts, but in November the S.C. Supreme Court said that the Legislature and the districts must work together to get over them.
On Monday, the court eliminated one big distraction in that process, as it rejected an appeal by state leaders to rehear the case.
Now it’s time for legislative leaders to get down to the business of addressing the shameful situation.
Several reform efforts already are under way. Gov. Nikki Haley has included money in her budget to recruit teachers to rural districts that are failing. She also wants to expand a program that coaches children in reading, and to devote $29.3 million for technology.
House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, has established a task force of lawmakers, business leaders and educators to evaluate reforms. Included are representatives of the districts named in the lawsuit.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, also formed a committee, to be chaired by Sens. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, and Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia.
Sadly, neither committee is expected to come up with a comprehensive solution any time soon. And that means the inadequate school transportation, unprepared teachers and substandard education in “educational ghettos” that the Supreme Court decision targets will have to wait.
Educators from the rural districts must also play a big part in the conversation, not just because doing so could help their students but because the Supreme Court so ordered it. The court was critical of school officials as well as the Legislature, saying they have spent money unwisely on administration rather than instruction, on athletic facilities rather than academic enhancements. It also chided small districts for simply blaming the state without exploring on their own such options as consolidation to reduce administrative costs.
The Supreme Court took a stunning 21 years to rule on the case. The plan prescribed by the court needs to be completed with reasonable dispatch.
Meanwhile limited reforms like those proposed by the governor should be implemented in the next school year. Indeed, all involved should be looking for measures that can start giving rural students better access to an adequate education even before the comprehensive plan is completed.