"It affects us to the point where you can see the depression," Monisha Brown explained a she toured a reporter through a photo exhibit of school facilities in rural South Carolina. The photos vividly illustrate unsafe and inappropriate conditions: exposed wiring, bathrooms with overflowing plumbing, crumbling bricks and rotting wood, and a host of makeshift efforts to keep out the rain.
Brown, a senior at Estill High School in Hampton District 2, was one of 250 rural South Carolina students who took photographs of their schools for the exhibit, which is designed to raise support to improve the state finance formula for rural districts. Dozens of the students were on hand for the exhibit opening and a rally at the statehouse in Columbia. They wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, "But What About Us?" and talked with reporters, legislators, and others about their experiences in school.
The photo exhibit opened at the capitol in May and will tour the state this summer. It is part of an ongoing effort by Education First, a coalition of churches and civics groups, to bring attention to conditions in rural schools and raise pressure in the state to address them.
The group takes issue with a recent ruling in South Carolina's long-running school finance lawsuit in which Judge Thomas Cooper found that school facilities and other programs in plaintiff districts were "minimally adequate" and therefore met the state's low constitutional standard. Judge Cooper ruled, however, that the state was failing to provide adequate early learning opportunities for the poorest children.
Deplorable facilities in some schools are just one result of South Carolina's rural school funding crisis. Heating and cooling systems don't work in many buildings. Libraries in some districts are making do with books dating to the 19th century. And many districts struggle to find and keep teachers. One rural district saw a complete turnover of its teaching staff in a recent four-year period.
This article is from the Rural Policy Matters newsletter from our friends at the Rural School and Community Trust - http://www.ruraledu.org
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