Once again, The Herald has editorialized about the "Corridor of Shame," the highly publicized documentary film calling attention to a string of rural school districts along Interstate 95 in South Carolina. Eight of these districts sued the state alleging unlawful underfunding. The documentary and its compelling title have generated no end of interest by politicians, educators and well-meaning newspapers. The one thing it has never generated is an examination of the facts.
The danger is that the myth of the Corridor will lead to political decisions that will be detrimental to the schools in York County. At the same time, no benefit will be provided to the children in the Corridor.
Let's look at some facts.
The lawsuit was filed in 1993 and was pursued by eight districts representing the Corridor. The suit was tried before Judge Thomas W. Cooper, Jr. in 2003 and 2004. At the end of the 102-day trial, the judge had before him the testimony of 112 witnesses and 4,000 documents. In an order that stretched to 160 pages, he concluded that the school districts had no basis for most of their complaints. Over and over he found, contrary to the allegations of the districts, that teachers, facilities, funding and resources were adequate to meet the state's responsibilities. The only area in which the judge ordered the state to take remedial action was in early childhood development.
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Early childhood development is important and should be addressed. Nevertheless, it is also important to acknowledge that the allegations of lack of teachers, crumbling facilities and pitiful resources were all rejected.
More importantly, any review of the funding of K-12 education in South Carolina shows that for years, the Corridor districts have gotten more than their share. In 2006, the average school district in the state spent $7,549 per student. The eight districts in the Corridor lawsuit spent an average of almost $9,000 per student. (Compare that with Rock Hill and Fort Mill districts, which spent $7,336 and $7,048, respectively.)
In 1999, when I joined the State Board of Education, we supported State Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum in her decision to take over the Allendale County school district. The district was a mess. Students were not achieving. Many students were not even coming to class. The district had made no progress on matters specifically required by the state. Our solution was to remove the entire school board, fire the superintendent and change out much of the administration and faculty. For a number of years after that, the state brought in experienced teachers, provided a huge funding effort and made Allendale schools the highest spending per pupil district in the state. It did not work.
Allendale was one of the plaintiffs in the Corridor lawsuit. In 2006, it spent $11,302 per student. Despite the spending, it remains rated below average or unsatisfactory in every category. It does not make adequate yearly progress. It has not made a satisfactory improvement rating.
Why did we fail? Why do these districts, despite heavy spending, continue to perform so poorly? The number of illegitimate births in those districts certainly gives a hint. In Allendale, fewer than one baby in two has a father married to its mother. Single-parent homes, not surprisingly, are as common as two-parent homes. All this points to chaos in the house, untended children and a situation that no amount of money can fix. It also helps explain the poverty so often blamed for the lack of educational achievement in those areas.
I do not know the answer for these broken communities. Somehow, I think an infusion of self-discipline and sense of responsibility in their populations would go a long way toward solving both their economic and educational problems. In the meantime, however, we had better be careful how we express our concern about the Corridor. Tax relief to homeowners now means that most funding for school operations comes from the state. The more pressure the Legislature feels to do something about the Corridor and early childhood development, the less it will do for York County. Anyone who believes the state will keep its promise to make up the funding lost to tax relief is ignoring history and the nature of central authorities.
My request to The Herald is to pipe down about the myth of the Corridor. You are putting your own school districts at risk.
This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.