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Rallying for Aid

South Carolina leaders may no longer be able to take a pass on the school funding debate that’s gaining momentum in their state.

Several thousand educators, parents, and others marched through the streets of Columbia, S.C., to the Statehouse on May 15 to show support for more school aid in the Palmetto State.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, also a two-term governor of South Carolina, led the march along with the author Pat Conroy and many other high-profile participants.

Dozens of education and civil rights organizations also sent representatives to the march, said Rhett Jackson, a retired bookstore owner from Columbia and a co- chairman of the event.

He said the idea for the rally emerged earlier this year after a breakfast sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the event, a lawyer arguing South Carolina’s school finance lawsuit—filed on behalf of rural school districts—showed slides of dilapidated schools.

"It would almost break your heart to see the conditions of the schools, not only the buildings, but the lack of resources, the lack of materials," Mr. Jackson said. Later, he teamed up with the state NAACP president and a local public relations executive to organize the march to help elevate the public profile of school aid issues.

The school finance trial began last fall in Clarendon County, which is the home of the first of the cases that became part of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

State Republican leaders have said the issue for public schools isn’t more money, but how it is spent.

Mr. Jackson argued that extra money would help the state’s poor and rural schools hire better teachers and provide extra help for students who need it.

In criticizing Republican Gov. Mark Sanford’s plan to provide tax credits to families who pay private school tuition—which died in the legislature this year—Mr. Jackson repeated a line he used at the rally.

"We can’t afford two school systems in this state," he quipped. "We’re not paying for one yet."

—Alan Richard

Vol. 23, Issue 38, Page 17

Published in Print: May 26, 2004, as State Journal

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