SCORS began with a conversation with Carl Epps, attorney in the Abbeville case and Arnold Hillman, longtime advocate for rural schools and communities. Arnold was aware of the case because of his involvement with a similar case in Pennsylvania.
In the discussion Arnold asked Carl, who was it that was lobbying for rural schools in South Carolina? Carl declared that there was very little lobbying, if any, going on. Although individual school people were speaking to their legislators, there was no organized effort.
Arnold was aware of a lobbying group that had been formed some years before as a result of the Abbeville case. Al Eads had started the organization whose name may have been SCARS. However, the group disbanded in either 2005 or 2006. Arnold contacted Al and spoke with him at length about rural schools in South Carolina.
The idea of SCORS was hatched at a dinner with Carol Hillman, Vashti Washington and Arnold Hillman. The needs of rural schools were not being met. Dr. Washington believed that only the people at the grass roots level could explain the needs of rural schools. Thus began the trips to all of the rural school districts in SC. SCORS has visited 15 of the 35 and continues to trek on.
The question always arises, “There are already organizations lobbying for school districts in South Carolina.” That is true. The Hillmans have met with most of the statewide education organizations. Most of them felt the same way. Why create another organization that will water down our message. That has been a common thread in many states that have had equity suits.
One has only to look at the results of these statewide lobbying efforts to see how they have succeeded in helping rural schools. It is difficult to explain that the needs of rural, urban and suburban school districts differ. SCORS still maintains that a quality education should be afforded to ALL children in South Carolina. However, the needs of rural districts are distinctly different in a number of ways.
Funding and resources are a prime example. Because of the political lay of the land in South Carolina, when funds are distributed in a grand manner, they are most often based on the number of students in a district. The outcome turns need on its head. Berkley County, one of the wealthiest school districts in the state, gets more money per student than does Jasper County, one of the poorest.
In answer to some of these problems, the Department of Education sometimes gives poor and rural schools grants to do particular things. These projects are one time grants and do not continue within the basic education funding amounts each year.
As a further example, the legislature has recently overridden the Governor’s veto of 20 million dollars for new buses. How will these buses be distributed? Some of our rural students spend three hours on a bus to and from school. As of this moment, the 20 million dollars will buy about 235 vehicles. After a phone call this morning to DOE, the new bus distribution is based upon the districts number of 1995/1996 buses, average bus age, bus mileage, route times, district population density, and district geographic location. We have asked for a breakdown by district. We were told that these distribution numbers would take about six to eight months. By that time, new buses should be arriving.
How then do you do lobbying that will be more effective than heretofore? You certainly don’t do the same thing that you have done before. Voices have to be co-joined. We must speak from a position of strength. We look to Dr. Thelma Sojourner’s success in getting a referendum passed in her community at a 3 to 1 vote in favor. How did she do that? She did not attempt the tried and true methods. She created an entirely new plan to speak to the community about the needs of the school district. SCORS visited that actual school. It was a tragedy that it was still in operation. Hopefully, the new school will be in operation shortly.
SCORS is doing a number of things. It is gathering support from different corners of the state. Meetings are taking place with those who can help us make a difference. Governor Riley is not the first person to take up for us. Meetings have already been set up with Transform South Carolina and some legislators.
SCORS has been welcoming to folks who support rural schools and communities. There needs to be more connections with local communities and with the South Carolina community in general. We welcome you to all of our meetings. If you want to get involved, just let us know.