State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman says she’s focused on ensuring rural students receive the same educational opportunities as those in urban areas of the state.
"It is immoral, some of the things I see when I travel across this state," Spearman said Monday.
"We have been competing with each other way too long," she said. "Competition is a good thing, but when it comes to the opportunities that young people have, it is time we fix it."
Spearman spoke to the approximately 170 people gathered Monday morning at the South Carolina Rural Summit. The two-day summit is being held this year at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
She challenged adults to work together to do what is right for every child in the state, specifically addressing local school board members and government leaders.
"I believe the state has to come in and build some new facilities for some of our most needy rural areas," Spearman said.
"I am really preaching that. The governor is open to that."
She noted 1 mill in taxes in Allendale is worth $19,000, while in Charleston a mill is worth $3.2 million.
Spearman also said rural counties with multiple school districts should consolidate those districts.
"If you consolidate, we will help you build a new school,” she said.
Spearman said Gov. Henry McMaster has requested $100 million for economic development for the 28 poorest school districts in the state.
She also would like to see more regional career centers, with high schools working together in offering trade courses.
"Our goal, and it is written in our state law now, ... is that we are going to work so that every high school graduate, when they get their high school diploma, will be prepared for success in college, career and in citizenship," she said.
Spearman highlighted some of her goals, including:
• Having a school resource officer is in every school.
• Ensuring every school has a mental health counselor by 2022.
• Getting rid of the state's aging buses. She says the state has about 741 buses older than 30 years. She hopes to have these off state streets in two years.
Some asked Spearman about special needs funding. She noted that the education reform bill before the General Assembly includes screening of children in kindergarten and first grade for dyslexia.
"We are doing some modules of training teachers on how to recognize dyslexia and reading issues so they will be equipped," Spearman said. "Those programs are very expensive. We do watch that very closely and we do assist helping schools apply."
She also talked about teacher recruitment, noting the planned 5 percent pay increase for teachers, more support for young people who want to be teachers, affordable housing for teachers in rural communities and forgiveness of loans for those who teach in rural areas.
S.C. Department of Commerce Director of Targeted Rural Initiatives and Special Projects Maceo Nance, who was born and raised in Orangeburg, said improving education in the state is a priority.
"We are our own worst people," he said. "It is not the kids. It is not the teachers. It boils down to administration but more importantly school board members. Period."
"Everybody wants to see things improve, but nobody wants change. You cannot have both. It is impossible. The day of me and mine can no longer stand,” he said.
South Carolina has 81 school districts scattered among its 46 counties. Nance said that’s too many.
"It can't be efficient. It can't be financially efficient. You can’t achieve what needs to be achieved with the me and mine attitude," Nance said.
The annual summit focuses on rural economic development and revitalization efforts in rural areas.
The Orangeburg event drew representatives from 23 counties. There were also representatives from economic development alliances, city governments and other bodies.
Of the 170 in attendance, about 50 individuals were representing Orangeburg County.