Guest column: It’s time to prioritize public education

October 30, 2018

I am the product of Aiken County Public Schools. My children attend Aiken County Public Schools. I have always been happy with their education and my own, but all I see in the news is how South Carolina schools are ranked near last in the nation.

Our schools are currently funded at less than pre-recession levels and the state spends about $500 less per student than the law says they are required to. That is a loss of nearly $12.5 million for the Aiken County Public School District every year. That $12.5 million could decrease class sizes and provide new technology upgrades, full-time and fully staffed guidance counselors and support staff in every school, and up-to-date training for faculty. Because of severe funding shortages, many school districts had to sue the state in order to obtain “minimally adequate” education for our children.

The State Supreme Court agreed that we weren’t even providing that “minimally adequate” education for rural and poor communities. Though more recently, the State Supreme Court washed its hands of the matter and absolved themselves of the trouble of making sure our state legislature lives up to its commitments to our children and to us. South Carolina is home to the “Corridor of Shame” and our current legislature is happy to let it stay that way. Apparently, our judicial branch is, too.

Public education is my No. 1 priority and it should be for all of our legislators. No more kicking the can down the road. It is time to step up and take responsibility for our actions and for our inaction. South Carolina is one of the worst states for upward economic mobility and that is due to our failure to prepare all of our children for the future they deserve. A vibrant economy requires an educated workforce.

When a child graduates from high school with appropriate reading comprehension, mathematic and critical thinking skills, we immediately expand his or her ability to find a job with a living wage and benefits. If we do not have properly educated children, we cannot build our economy. No business wants to move its company to a state that can’t supply them with the skilled workers it need, and no employee wants to move to a state with the worst education system in the country.

We are willing to spend five times more to incarcerate someone than we will to educate them. Approximately two-thirds of prisoners have not graduated from high school. To solve the problems with our economy and incarceration, we have to begin with a fully adequate education system, not a “minimally adequate” one. Imagine if we could move from one of the worst education systems in the country to even just the middle of the pack. If we strive for an excellent education, our economy could improve at unprecedented rates. With quality public education comes quality jobs, decreased crime, and an increase in the quality of life for all. When one child wins, we all win.

Elise Fox is the Democratic candidate for S.C. House District 81.