Nearly 132,000 South Carolina children are enrolled in the 36 public school districts represented in the adequacy of funding lawsuit, Abbeville vs. State of South Carolina.
Many school buildings in these rural districts date to the 1920s, and the oldest, J.V. Martin High School in Dillon District 2, was built in 1896. Many of the newer facilities were constructed in the 1950s, over half a century ago.
Years of diminished revenue sources and the passage of decades have reduced these facilities to deplorable and often unsafe conditions. Roofs leak. Ceilings collapse. Stormwater and raw sewage accumulate in hallways and classrooms in rainy weather. Plaster falls. Wooden floors, molding and trim are rotting. Windows and doors do not seal. Water fountains and toilets are broken. Heating and cooling systems are unreliable. Mold accumulates. Fire alarms fail and some have no sprinkler system at all. Some schools are open to rats, bats and snakes. Few of these schools can be fairly considered appropriate learning environments in 21st century America.
Teachers in these poor, rural South Carolina school districts comprise only 2.8% of the state’s teaching force but hold 11.4% of substandard certificates or out-of-field permits. Teacher salaries range from $3,000 to $12,000 less than neighboring wealthier districts. Teacher turnover rates are the highest in the state. In Hampton School District 2, almost 40% of its teachers have less than five years experience. One out of every four teachers in these districts leave every year.
Materials and Equipment
Classrooms here often lack basic materials, such as current textbooks, and equipment such as computers, calculators and pencil sharpeners. Science and foreign language labs are ill-equipped. Libraries are poorly stocked. In Estill High School’s library, books date to the 19th century.
In these 36 rural elementary, middle and high schools, academic performance consistently ranks “below average” and “unsatisfactory” among the state’s 85 school districts. Language and math scores in these schools are routinely the lowest in the state.
By the time students in these poor districts reach the 8th grade, between 50% and 60% of them score below Basic, Proficient or Advanced levels on the state “PACT” tests.
High school graduation rates in these districts range from 32% to 48%, all below the state average.
This photography exhibit seeks to identify malingering conditions in elementary, middle and high schools in the state’s rural communities through the eyes and words of students themselves. Piecemeal, short-term judicial and legislative remedies will remain woefully insufficient to address these obvious needs. Until these deficiencies, powerfully represented by these student photographers, are comprehensively addressed, this state’s rural school children, over 132,000 of them, will continue to languish and South Carolina’s educational rankings will remain among the lowest in the nation.
Producer and Director
“Corridor of Shame: the neglect of South Carolina’s rural schools”