(Charleston) Post and Courier. May 31, 2021.

Editorial: SC school district consolidations finally starting to add up. We need more still

It wasn’t realistic to expect any game-changer education laws while South Carolina was still struggling to get kids back into the classroom after last year’s COVID-19 school closings.

But our state still made surprising progress this year toward providing all children with a decent education.

The Legislature finally passed a bill to let the state education superintendent remove the school board in districts she has to take over, rather than having to hand an improved district back to the people who were either incapable of or unwilling to run it properly in the first place. Lawmakers passed a bill to let school districts work with nonprofits to operate more than one school of innovation like Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood. The state budget passed by the Senate includes $1,000 raises for all teachers and other provisions that should help combat our teacher shortage, and House budget writers are expected to do likewise in the budget the House is set to debate next week.

Less noticed, South Carolina continued to make progress toward reducing its still-too-large number of tiny school districts, which often are concentrated in our poorest rural counties and rank consistently among the most challenged in our state.

A year after the Legislature merged Clarendon County districts 1 and 3, lawmakers passed S.648 this year to pull the county’s holdout district, Clarendon 2, into the mix. The first consolidation takes effect July 1; the second in July 2022. Combined with last year’s merger of Hampton County’s two tiny school districts, that means the Legislature has merged five districts into two in barely more than a year.

And there’s hope for more in June. The Senate passed S.691 in April to merge Barnwell districts 19 and 29 and passed S.771 in May to merge Bamberg 1 and 2. Both bills can be considered when the Legislature convenes a limited-agenda mini-session next week, and the state Education Department expects them to pass once a few details are nailed down.

This mini-wave of consolidations started in 2019, when the Legislature agreed to actively promote them by offering a few million dollars to districts to cover one-time expenses that can accompany a merger. One reason the state expects the Barnwell and Bamberg mergers to go through is that the districts have accepted merger funding.

Even more notably, S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman announced this spring that she was merging the tiny Florence District 4 into Florence 1. Ms. Spearman declared a state of emergency in Florence 4 in 2018 and took it over, but a state law adopted in 2016 gives her several options beyond running a troubled district herself, including merging it with another district.

A spokesman told us last week that while the district had made progress academically and financially, “the financial situation with a district of less than 700 students is not sustainable, so we feel that consolidation with the nearby Florence 1 district will provide solid financial footing and provide the needed opportunities for students.”

As Ms. Spearman wrote in announcing her decision: “The administration costs alone take away dramatically from dollars that should be going to teachers and students in the classroom. Students suffer from the lack of course offerings, career development programs, and limited extra-curricular activities."

Predictably, the move upset some local officials. But even school board members who objected told The Florence Morning News that their objection was to the process, not the merger itself.

Consolidating districts doesn’t save a huge amount of money, but as Ms. Spearman noted, the overhead costs are tremendous in tiny districts, and every dollar that can be saved on administration can be plowed into the programs for students.

At least as important, consolidation helps eliminate funding inequities between districts and increases the talent pool for school board members and top administrators, and that in turn helps save students from school board members whose primary goal is to provide good jobs for their unqualified friends and relatives, and from superintendents who aren’t creative or energetic enough for the job.

The potential benefits of merging tiny districts are so clear that the state Supreme Court suggested it when it ordered the Legislature to provide a decent education to all children. The justices even said the districts that sued the state in the Abbeville v. South Carolina were partly at fault for their poor performance because instead of merging, they “opted for a course of self-preservation, placing all blame for the blighted state of education in their districts at the feet” of the state.

If the Barnwell and Bamberg consolidations go through, that will reduce the number of districts with fewer than 1,000 students from eight when the state first offered incentives to just two: Greenwood 51 with 881 students and McCormick County Schools with 594 students. Of course, we’ll still have 73 regular school districts (plus a handful of specialty schools and two charter school districts, which is one too many), several with fewer than 2,000 students. But it’s better than the 79 we had two years ago, better still than the 91 we had a quarter-century ago.

But for a state with just 46 counties and not a penny we can afford to squander, it’s still too many. That means lawmakers must continue their incremental, individualized progress to combine more districts — and take lessons in persistence from what is in effect a microcosm of the incremental, individualized progress that is essential to reaching all the students who need better educational opportunities than we’re providing them.

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(Orangeburg) The Times and Democrat. June 1, 2021.

Editorial: Looks like teens ready to go to work

Businesses looking for people to work is reality. No matter the reasons behind the worker shortage, it is affecting service and even businesses’ ability to operate at all.

Some fear government benefits in the wake of the pandemic will do more than contribute to the dearth of workers in the short term. They see young people rejecting work, and fear for the future without the traditional American commitment to work.

Good news from Junior Achievement.

A new survey of teens conducted for JA by the research firm ENGINE Insights shows that two-thirds of 16- and 17-year-olds (68%) plan to work this summer. Nearly the same percentage of teens in that age group (69%) who planned to work in the summer of 2019, based on a similar survey taken pre-pandemic.

The 2021 survey of 1,002 13- to 17-year-olds was conducted by ENGINE Insights from May 6-13. The survey was not conducted in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“Summer jobs are a great way to introduce young people to the world of work and the importance of earning and managing money,” said Casey Pash, president of Junior Achievement of Greater South Carolina. “These survey results show many teens are eager to have the experience of a first job. Hopefully, with the availability of vaccines, decline in the number of COVID cases, and proper safety measures in place, they will be able to do just that this summer.”

Other findings from the survey include:

• The top summer jobs teens expect to work are in retail (26%) and restaurants (26%), followed by landscaping/lawn-mowing and other outdoors work (19%) and babysitting/childcare (13%).

• Nearly all teens surveyed (90%) said that they plan to attend college after high school.

• Of those planning to attend college after high school, a quarter (27%) expect to take out student loans, while nearly the same percentage (28%) believe they will find some other way to pay for college. Nearly half (45%) are “not sure” if they will need to take out student loans or not.

• Two-thirds (68%) of all teens say they support “debt-free college” – or college that is free for all attendees. However, that percentage drops to only a third (32%) if it requires higher taxes to pay for it.

It seems that teens are more motivated to work than many believe. And they are aware that when it comes to education, there is no “free lunch.” Debt-free college would mean higher taxes.

As to where teens plan to work this summer, retail and restaurants are surely glad to see the survey results. So many businesses need their help.

And in the way of a plug for a job that teens have traditionally liked during summers, the YMCA of Columbia is looking to hire lifeguards and swim instructors at three locations, one of them being the Orangeburg County Aquatic Park on St. Matthews Road. That park and the one in Santee began operating again over the Memorial Day weekend, but their hours are limited because of a shortage of lifeguards.

The YMCA is offering the necessary training for those not certified. If you’re one of the teenagers planning to work this summer, the YMCA needs you. Contact Alex Davis at 803-268-9622 or alexdavis@columbiaymca.org.

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Greenwood Index-Journal. May 27, 2021.

Editorial: Let’s be honest here; it’s not about heritage

Times change. In fact, time has a way of changing things. Time provides opportunity for better understanding, for learning, for perspective.

Consider this. How many people would have rallied behind a plan to name a building in Philadelphia for that city’s famous comedian and actor, Bill Cosby? How many today would rally behind removal of Cosby’s name in light of his being imprisoned on sexual assault charges?

The business of putting people’s names on buildings, highways and the like is a slippery slope, especially when they are living. But it’s also slippery when they are long dead.

In the Old South, segregationists and slave owners were revered by many and even elected to high office by voters. White voters, of course. History and the passage of time, which often affords us an opportunity to revisit the accuracy of historical records. Remember, the annals of history are often shaped by those who won or who have a particular bias.

In short, those who were heralded as heroes in the halls of government or among military ranks yesterday might prove to be today’s reprobates, no longer worthy of having their names chiseled on university buildings, no longer worthy of having their bronze images on public grounds.

History is history. It bears learning, especially when there is need to prevent its being repeated. Monuments have a rightful place in history, such as in museums or on museum grounds.

South Carolina need not erase its history, much of which certainly should not be repeated. But it need not glorify its tainted past through laws with names that mask its true intent. The Heritage Act is nothing more than a means to an end, which at the time of its passage in 2000 was to keep the vestiges of the Old South firmly in place, and in the faces of those it long oppressed, beat and killed, as a compromise to bringing the Confederate flag down from the Statehouse dome. The mantra so many continue to cling to — “It’s about heritage, not hate” — says it all. If you have to explain yourself with such a catchphrase, you’re masking the truth. It really is about continuing hate and longing for the ways of old.

Is the Confederate flag a part of state history? Absolutely. Did it belong on the flag pole, flying just below the U.S. and state flag, as though the Palmetto State were somehow still part of the Confederate States of America? Absolutely not. Nor does the flag belong on Statehouse grounds in a place of honor. Nor should state lawmakers dictate to local government which monuments it must keep on public property.

Just as it was long past time to furl the battle flag that flew above the Statehouse and on Statehouse grounds, it is time for the state Supreme Court to furl the Heritage Act.

END