A "minimally adequate education" is all the South Carolina constitution requires for its students.
But even that is not being met in the Jasper County School District, which received its third consecutive "F" grade on federal report cards this year, according to state Rep. Bill Herbkersman.
He hopes, however, that the S.C. Supreme Court's ruling Wednesday will help the legislature and school district work together to fix the problem.
The court ruled that the state government isn't doing enough to guarantee students in poor, rural areas receive a minimally adequate education -- including students in the Jasper County.
"This is about the future of our children and many of them in these districts no longer have a future," said Herbkersman, who chairs the Jasper County Legislative Delegation. "This ruling says we need to change what is not working, and what is not working right now in Jasper County is the status quo."
Attempts Wednesday to reach Jasper County Superintendent Vashti Washington, school board chairwoman Berty Riley and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, were unsuccessful.
Herbkersman agreed that the state could do more to help the districts in the lawsuit, many are part of what is considered the "Corridor of Shame" along Interstate 95. However, the Bluffton Republican said district officials bear responsibility for the state of their schools, as well.
Sen. Tom Davis, also a member of the Jasper County Legislative Delegation, agreed.
"The end of the ruling says to the districts that a lot of the problems are of their own making and they have contributed to the poor outcomes," said Davis, R-Beaufort. "A lot of money in these districts, like Jasper County, are going to the administration and more needs to go to the classroom -- so they need to be part of the solution, as well."
Both Davis and Herbkersman said they hope to begin work with Jasper County immediately to improve schools.
Although this decision focuses on the "Corridor of Shame" districts, Davis said he thinks the ruling will spark much-needed changes for the entire state -- including in Beaufort County, where the funding formula "routinely shortchanges" students.
The state looks at education with a "patchwork" approach, he said, and this ruling will help force the government to consider things holistically.
"The way our state currently goes about providing for the constitutionally mandated system of public education is grossly dysfunctional, and groups with vested interests in the status quo have for years blocked necessary legislative reforms," he said. "The General Assembly needed a swift kick in the rear, and the state Supreme Court just provided it."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Outside input irks Jasper County school officials, residents, October 29, 2014
- ACLU sues Jasper County schools, alleges improper school board districts; Civil liberties group says current districts lack population balance, undermining right to vote, June 25, 2014
- Beaufort County schools maintain 'B' grade on federal report card; Jasper County School District gets third consecutive 'F', October 21, 2014
- 'Corridor of Shame' producer continues to stoke fires of change, January 26, 2013