Columbia’s African-American community will soon gather for a town hall meeting to discuss its public schools. The June 16 event is part of a four-city tour called Saving Tomorrow, Today: Redeveloping Our Community Schools.
South Carolina’s public school system attracted national scrutiny last year, sparking a conversation about race and school discipline.
A shocking video shows a White sheriff’s deputy slamming a Black female Spring Valley High School student to the ground, while she’s still sitting at her desk, and dragging the girl across the floor to arrest her. The girl’s crime was refusing to put away her mobile phone.
The State newspaper reported in April that South Carolina’s Black students were three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than White students in 2015. Indeed, that disparity has existed for at least a decade, according to the newspaper’s analysis of discipline records across the state.
Many Black parents in South Carolina believe their children are targeted for harsher punishment, The State said.
When it comes to academics, South Carolina has been struggling to address a socioeconomic disparity.
The courts have pressed state lawmakers to fix the problems. Poor and rural districts sued the state in 1993, complaining that they’re under-resourced relative to wealthier districts.
In 2014, the state Supreme Court ruled in a favor of the school districts, ending a 21-year legal battle. The justices ruled that South Carolina violated the state constitution by failing to provide a basic education to disadvantaged students.
Following that landmark ruling, a judge in 2006 ordered South Carolina to do more to help preschool age children in poor districts. That led to the 4K program, which provides state funding for students living in poverty to obtain a preschool education.
GreenvilleOnline reported that about 12,500 children participated in 2015. However, more than 20,000 4-year-old children from poor families are ineligible for the state program, which lawmakers plan to expand eventually.
Meanwhile, a study reported in The State raises doubt about the program’s effectiveness.
It found that while 4K improved students’ test schools, the underprivileged students still scored below the statewide average. What’s more, students in the program had similar scores to impoverished children attending schools in wealthier districts, according to the newspaper.
State Sen. John Matthews (D-Orangeburg) told The State that the study reveals how far poor students lag behind their peers in wealthier districts. Regarding the 4K program, he added: “We have not seen the gains that we thought we were going to see.”
But others are optimistic. Dan Wuori of South Carolina First Steps, which oversees part of the 4K program, told The State that students in the program are outperforming other impoverished students who are not participating in the early childhood education program.
Those matters and more will likely come up during the town hall event, which begins at 6 p.m. at Greater St. Luke Baptist Church, located at 5213 Farrow Road, M.L. Smith Community Development Center.