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Betsy DeVos to visit struggling South Carolina schools

February 20, 2019
FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2018 file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Democrats in Congress are accusing the Education Department of interfering with an investigation by the agency’s independent watchdog. Five lawmakers sent a letter to DeVos on Feb. 19, 2019, staying her deputy pressured the department’s inspector general on Jan. 3 to drop an internal investigation. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2018 file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Democrats in Congress are accusing the Education Department of interfering with an investigation by the agency’s independent watchdog. Five lawmakers sent a letter to DeVos on Feb. 19, 2019, staying her deputy pressured the department’s inspector general on Jan. 3 to drop an internal investigation. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is visiting a South Carolina area known as the “Corridor of Shame” due to its underperforming schools, making a trip to an area that’s been held out as an example of the need to make reforms to the state’s schools.

DeVos plans to travel on Thursday to Florence County, one of several dozen districts along Interstate 95 once bestowed the nickname “Corridor of Shame” because of their substandard schools.

Along with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Mitchell Zais — who headed up South Carolina’s schools from 2011 to 2015 — Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, DeVos will visit Timmonsville Educational Center, as well as the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing & Technology, which focuses on matching up workforce training programs with local industry needs.

They’ll also be joined by U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, whose office told The Associated Press on Wednesday he’s discussed the importance of technical schools with DeVos in the past and has been working to get her to the district to get a firsthand look at improvements.

The visit comes amid ongoing debate on how to improve South Carolina’s education system, with legislative leaders and the governor saying they’re placing a priority on the issue this session. Gov. Henry McMaster, who has asked officials for a study of the decades-old formula that determines how districts are funded, pledged in his State of the State address last month that “the words ‘Corridor of Shame’ will be a distant memory.”

The area was part of a decades-old lawsuit over education funding. In 2014, the state Supreme Court ruled that rural schools had violated the state Constitution by failing to provide each student with quality education. Last year, the high court dismissed the suit, voting 3-2 to close a legal case that examined whether the Legislature provides enough money and support for poor and rural schools, ruling that officials had resolved the overarching dispute.

In a 1999 ruling, justices coined the phrase “minimally adequate education,” immediately bothering many people who thought South Carolina should aspire to being more than adequate at something as important as public education.

The legal case led to the 2005 “Corridor of Shame” documentary, which depicted decrepit conditions. Politicians and public officials have made pilgrimages to the area, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, who in 2007 toured a school, a portion of which was still in use and dated to the late 19th century.

Upon taking office in 2017, McMaster launched a tour of some of the schools seen in the film to push for his ideas on education reform.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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