While South Carolinians no doubt relish the state's status as the site of the first Southern presidential primary and the attention that will bring, we also may cringe as the spotlight falls on the "Corridor of Shame."
That was the name given in a 2005 documentary film to a swath of poor counties from the state's northwest corner, east to Interstate 95 and south and west to the Georgia line. The student population at schools within the corridor remains largely black; the economic opportunities there are few; and many of the schools are crumbling.
The corridor, predictably, has become a popular prop for Democratic presidential candidates (though not for Republicans). Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was the latest candidate to address the problem of struggling South Carolina schools with the corridor as his backdrop.
Edwards visited two schools in the corridor this month. He used the occasion to assert that America still has two separate public school systems -- divided not just by race but also by poverty. Edwards said the federal government must help bridge those inequities.
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Illinois Sen. Barack Obama visited the region in August. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton used the area in a radio ad, where she said: "If you are a child in a crumbling school along the 'Corridor of Shame,' you are invisible to this president."
The attention may help accentuate the point that improving education is both a state and national priority. And, as Edwards notes, where Washington can raise the living standards of the nation's neediest, South Carolina's poor will benefit as well.
But when the presidential candidates depart to campaign in the next primary state, South Carolina still will be left with the burden of doing something not only about the Corridor of Shame but also the unsatisfactory performance of schools in other parts of the state.
"I wish there was someone who could ride in on a white horse and change things," said state Education Superintendent Jim Rex, the only Democrat elected to statewide office. "But it's a South Carolina problem and something South Carolinians created over decades. We're the ones who will have to solve it."
Funding for early childhood education statewide would have been a good start. But the Legislature balked at that proposal during the last session.
As Rex stated, there is no knight on a white horse, and there are no easy answers. While the Corridor of Shame may serve as a useful symbol for candidates, most South Carolinians already are aware that there is a good reason this area has been given that label, and that the state needs to do something about it.
Presidentdial candidates have drawn nation's eyes to the Corridor of Shame.
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