South Carolina lawmakers returned to Columbia where they will begin hashing out Gov. Nikki Haley's 2014-15 budget, which includes a healthy education funding injection.
This is an election year, so we all know what to expect. There will be plenty of partisan back-and-forth, especially in light of the fact Haley is facing an opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, in her re-election bid. While it is good to see the governor putting more emphasis on education funding, we recognize funds alone will not resolve the state's ranking among its counterparts in terms of education success rates.
Haley is not the first Palmetto State governor, Republican or Democrat, to recognize poorer rural districts need a great deal of attention. Again, money is not the sole answer any more than building state-of-the-art schools is the answer. Do money and buildings help? Do they count? Most assuredly so. While students in Greenwood District 50, for example, are being educated in renovated and nearly new buildings, children in the infamous Corridor of Shame along the I-95 route are being schooled in decrepit and leaky buildings. And worse. A look at test scores, whether in this state or other states, does uphold the point, however, more than money and good buildings are important to a solid educational foundation.
Still, as long as there remains public education, there remains a need for public education funding. And in South Carolina, that funding dropped well behind where it stood, per capita, a decade ago. Anyone in business knows it's virtually impossible to operate under such conditions.
Too often what is seen in the education arena is nothing short of pure politics and snake oil salesmanship. Educators are wrestled by politicians who throw this and that accountability measurement at their feet while educators themselves are guilty of jumping at the opportunity to try the next cure-all put before them.
It will no doubt be a while before the budget is hammered out, and no doubt there will be, as noted earlier, way too much political grandstanding and posturing.
We are not opposed to putting money into programs that work. For example, healthy children (translation: children whose minds and bodies are prepared for school through nutritious meals) are vastly better learners and performers. It's a given our illiteracy rate is deplorable in South Carolina. Funding reading coaches in our schools is commendable, although we cannot help pointing out there have been many successful reading programs operated voluntarily with minimal dollars required from the school systems themselves. One such program that comes to mind is the HOSTS (Help One Student To Succeed) program abandoned nearly a decade ago. Technology? Absolutely an essential to today's learning environment, although arguable regarding how much public money is poured into it.
At some point — and it surely will not be this election year or even the year afterward — it would be good, refreshing even, to see politicians and education administrators agree to one thing that would go a long way toward ensuring success in the classroom: Let the teachers teach, and support them in eradicating those students who are not there to learn but are sent to schools by parents who see the system as a free babysitting service. Quit playing around with this program and that, quit dispensing and revising success measurements that send teachers into woods from which they see no exit and afford them real opportunities to teach. Further, weed out the teachers who are not teaching but rather are coasting. There are many good and wonderful teachers, new and seasoned, who produce outcomes that are evidence of their strengths and abilities. Equally, there are those whose time in the classroom should come to an end, not because their absence will save the district money, but because investing in someone else will ultimately prove to be a wise investment in the children.
And isn't that what our public education is supposed to be about, what it claims is its mission?