Equality Is Not Equity

AFLC Old Allendale Elementary School

During his work with the production of Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools (2005), people would ask Bud Ferillo why he was getting involved in these rural areas. His reply was a paraphrase of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I am here because injustice is here.”

Corridor of Shame highlights the still-undecided case Abbeville vs State of South Carolina (1993), by which 40 rural school districts sued the state for a lack of equitable funding. The bulk of these districts are along the I-95 corridor, with a “J”-shaped hook along the southern border of South Carolina. Allendale, of course, is included.

If you are like the pre-2011 me, you probably never heard of this court case (or this movie), or know it by name only. Well, you’re in luck. I’m going to let you know what this stir is about, why you should care, and how you can help.

What’s Wrong with Our Education?

Confession: When it comes to education policy, I used to hold to the typical middle-class, “conservative” thinking. With all the wisdom of an uninformed teenager or twenty-something, I reasoned, “All students should get equal money from the state, and then the local community can raise money to provide more.” That sounded fair and equal, right?

Not so much. Problems arise when you have a combination of plummeting local tax base (as with most rural areas over the decades) and a decrease in state education budget. Under Governor Dick Riley (1979-87), South Carolina spent 52% of its budget in education; today it’s only 33%.

And the truth is, equity is not equality. You may think that everyone should get an equal amount, but a quick illustration will prove you wrong.

Suppose you have two children, and one of them has a mental disability, physical handicap, or chronic illness. Would you spend equal time and money on each of your children? Would you spend $5000 on your healthier child for every $5000 you spent on treatments and therapies for you other child? Doubtful. You will spend more resources on the one that needs more assistance.

Being fair to all children doesn’t mean equal money for all children. We need to allocate more resources to the greatest need. And it is well-proven that poverty affects brain function of children. At this time of the year, a baseball analogy may help: if children from well-off families are born on second base, then those from poverty start off in the batters box, and with two strikes.

“Minimally Adequate”

On Father’s (or Mother’s) Day, would you be happy if your child gave you a card that read, “You are a minimally adequate Dad (or Mom)”? If you needed a medical specialist, would you search the yellow pages for Google “a minimally adequate doctor”?

I didn’t think so.

And yet, while the Constitution of South Carolina (adopted in 1895) guarantees a free public education, it only requires that this education be minimally adequate. We have set the standard low, and we regularly fail to clear that bar.

Bud Ferillo and others propose that we amend our Constitution “to replace South Carolina’s dismal standard of ‘minimally adequate’ with a new expectation of high quality education’ for our public school children.” You can learn more at GoodbyeMinimallyAdequate.com (and sign the petition).

Is This My Problem?

Maybe you home school, or send your child to a good private school. Or maybe you live in a better-resourced school district. Why should you care about the other less-fortunate school districts?

First, even if your children are educated by home school or private school, 90% of children in South Carolina attend public schools. And these kids will be our future leaders and tax-payers. We need to help them reach their potential.

Second, you have to realize the scope of the effects of failing school districts. In the “corridor of shame,” only 52% of students go from kindergarten through 12th grade and graduate on time. And in Allendale (and many similar areas), 30% of adults are illiterate. A lack of quality education leads to a dearth of gainful employment, which leads to a low-quality economy and tax base. And the cycle begins anew, draining resources from the state as a whole.

Third, you should care merely because the lack of equity in education funding is an injustice. We cannot let our children suffer while we shrug our shoulders.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”  Desmond Tutu

A Call to Action

The twenty-year-old case Abbeville vs State of South Carolina has been on appeal for a years. But having it reheard this past fall (for the benefit of two new judges) gives hope that a decision will be handed down this year. If the proponents receive a favorable decision, the next step will be to go back to the Legislature to get them to act on it.

Bud Ferillo is looking for three main areas of new legislation:

  1. Increased funding for early childhood education. The first 5 years of a child’s life is transformative, but our state budget does not support it.
  2. Higher standards. “Highly quality,” not “minimally adequate,” education.
  3. More money for safe school buildings.

But we can’t wait on Columbia or Washington or any elected body. We need to be involved in the lives of these kids NOW. Our communities and our churches have so much talent, and these children need us.

Let’s Just Do Something.

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3 responses to “Equality Is Not Equity”

  1. Ruth Hazzard says :

    this is so deeply troubling, as a citizen, an educator, a South Carolinian, but so more challenging to me as a Christian. How can anyone here be proud of being here as long as these conditions continue to be allowed to prevail? It’s truly dumbfounding, what can I do to help?

    • joeyespinosa says :

      Ruth — thanks for asking those questions. Yes, it is dumbfounding to me, but I am most dumbfounded at myself for not having known and taken actions on these truths for so long.

      I’m not sure where you live, or what your circumstances are. I think the biggest thing is to get involved in the schools, especially those under-resourced schools. I’d love to learn more about you, so I can help you. Please feel free to contact me (see the Contact page).

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  1. Equality is not equity | Forgotten S.C. - August 16, 2013

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