Archives for category: South Carolina

Yesterday, I posted an article by an economist who wrote that schools are not super spreaders, and that the rate of transmission of COVID has been very low among students and teachers. Some readers got angry at me for posting this article. Let me be clear that I am not a scientist or a doctor. I do not know whether it is safe to reopen schools. I am as uncertain about the right course of action as many other people.

I am not qualified to offer any guidance. The decision about reopening depends on the community and expert judgment. Everyone should follow the science, wear a mask, practice social distancing both indoors and outside, and wash their hands frequently. It may be safe to reopen schools in some places but not safe in other places. What is important to know is that the COVID is surging again in many states, that the infection rate is rising nationally, and that this is a contagious and deadly disease. Be informed.

The stories below tell what happened to two teachers. They loved teaching; their students loved them. It is not clear where they became infected with the disease.

HOWARD – Even after a diagnosis of COVID-19, Heidi Hussli didn’t plan to give up teaching.

After being hospitalized last week, she told a friend she planned to teach via video the week of Sept. 14-18.

Hussli, who’d most recently taught in-person on Sept. 8, “said she would Zoom with her kids from the hospital,” the friend said via text message.

But “by Sunday, her condition worsened.”

Hussli, who’d taught German for 16 years at Bay Port High School, was unable to teach again. She died Thursday morning at a Green Bay hospital.

Family members, in a statement distributed by the Howard-Suamico School District, said the 47-year-old mother of one had recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Heidi Hussli

It’s not known when Hussli, of Suamico, was infected with the coronavirus.

She’d taught classes in person Sept. 1, 2 and 8.

Hussli followed social-distancing protocols and wore a face mask while teaching, district communications director Brian Nicol said.

Hussli taught two International Baccalaureate classes, each of which had 15 to 20 students enrolled, the district said. Because Bay Port has split its student body into groups that attend on opposite days, the classes would have seven to 12 students attending in person. The remainder watched via a video feed.

She had not been in the classroom since being diagnosed and had “no close contact” with students after learning she was infected with COVID-19, district officials said.

In South Carolina, Margie Kidd, a veteran elementary school teacher, died of COVID.

Margie Kidd loved to teach.

She was good at it and had spent 26 years moulding youngsters.

But doing the thing she loved most put her at risk of contracting COVID-19, her family says, and contributed to her recent death.

Kidd, 71, died at Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville after complications from COVID-19 on Sept. 28, first reported in-depth by the Jasper County Sun Times.

She was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, and spent the beginning of her life in the city. After she married Frank, the couple moved in 1972 to Bluffton, where they lived for more than 30 years.

She earned her teaching degree in Savannah and then began her more than two-decade career at Ridgeland Elementary School, first working with kindergartners and later moving to first grade.

Kidd’s daughter, Essa Jackson, told multiple news outlets that her mother, who was active and healthy, was nervous about going back to school in person with so many COVID-19 cases in the area. She said her mother wore a face shield, mask and gloves wherever she went.

In August, Jasper County teachers returned to school to conduct state-mandated, face-to-face assessment activities and instruction for preschool through eighth-grade students. It was the first time students had returned to the school since the pandemic began in March.

Kidd was initially released from the hospital despite testing positive for COVID-19, but soon after was readmitted after calling an ambulance because she had trouble breathing. She was eventually put on a ventilator for 21 days until her death.

My family believes that being in the school building during the pandemic did have something to do with her getting sick,” Jackson told the Jasper County Sun Times. “She was very afraid of going back to work and catching COVID-19, but she felt like she didn’t have a choice because she needed to work to pay her bills because my father was just getting over having colon cancer and heart surgery this summer, so she was the only one working.”

The Jasper County School District released a statement about Kidd’s death.

“We lost a most beloved member of our school district family,” it said. “She served the people of Jasper County as a professional educator for 26 years. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family, friends and co-workers at RES.”

The district is providing grief counselors for Kidd’s coworkers and students.








As of Oct. 5, more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections were associated with schools across the state, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported. There were 741 among students and 301 among staff.

In the Jasper County School District, fewer than five COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among faculty and staff at both Ridgeland Elementary School and Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School, according to DHEC.

Two private schools in the county, John Paul II Catholic School and Thomas Heyward Academy, have reported fewer than five positive cases among students at each school.

None of the cases within the Jasper County schools was confirmed within the last 30 days, according to DHEC data.

Kendall Deas, a political scientist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, has worked in the field of economic evelopment. In a recent article, he warned the leaders of the state that investing in food schools will do more for the state than corporate tax breaks.

He is responding to a recent study by @GoodJobsFirst showing that South Carolina had cut education by $423 million to subsidize corporations.

Deas begins:

When I was in graduate school I worked for an economic development group that recruited companies to the metro Atlanta area. And time and again when executives would visit, this question would be among the first they’d ask:

“How good are the schools?”

It was very clear to me then that the quality of schools matters a great deal when it comes to attracting investment and jobs.

I’m now back in my native South Carolina where I am an educator and advocate for public education. And I am concerned about the subpar, uneven quality of our state’s public schools.; U.S. News and World Report, for example, ranks South Carolina’s schools No. 43 among the 50 states.

The state’s “Corridor of Shame.” a nickname given to a string of rural, impoverished and poor-performing school districts along South Carolina’s Interstate 95 corridor, serves as a stark reminder that much work needs to be done to improve our national standing in education.

This region of the state, with flat farmland and remnants of industries that have relocated overseas, needs to attract jobs — and it also needs employers who want to invest in our future. But by disinvesting in their school systems many South Carolina counties are undermining their ability to compete.

To revitalize these economies we need to invest in traditional public schools — yet this need to improve the quality of our public education system is too often ignored by state political leadership.

We have growth in some areas. And when jobs grow, people move in — and that means more families with school-age children. But then we abate the companies’ taxes, which puts stress on the tax base we need to keep our schools modern and healthy.

A SEVERE PROBLEM

Until now we did not know how severe this disinvestment has become.

Under state law counties award massive economic subsidies and tax incentives — even though school districts lose the most revenue. Last year these corporate tax breaks cost South Carolina public schools $423 million, an astonishing increase of $99 million from FY 2017.

This fact was revealed recently by Good Jobs First — a nonprofit think tank — along with the South Carolina Education Association; they found that millions in property tax abatements have been granted to companies like Boeing, BMW, Volvo, Amazon and dozens of other businesses operating in the state.

The biggest aggregate losers were Berkeley County ($54 million) and Greenville County ($41 million); meanwhile, poorer counties such as Orangeburg, Dorchester, Calhoun, Greenwood and Barnwell lost more than $2,000 per pupil.

Good schools attract good jobs.

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in the courtroom? Would you like to have a front-row seat as lawyers argue for and against vouchers before the South Carolina Supreme Court?

Here is your chance.

Tonight at 7:30 pm EST, I’m having a Zoom conversation with University of South Carolina professor Derek Black. He will talk about his new book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, and about the case discussed in this video.

Please sign up here and join us. It’s like a seat in a graduate seminar in vouchers and school choice, offered by a top-notch constitutional lawyer.

South Carolina’s public schools need adequate funding but big corporate tax breaks are making that funding impossible. Big profits for the shareholders, low-wage jobs for working people.

For Immediate Release ~ September 15, 2020

Contacts:

Arlene Martínez | 202-302-4301 | arlene@goodjobsfirst.org

Sherry East | 803-448-6714 | seast@thescea.org

Losses Surge 31 Percent in Two Years

South Carolina’s Public Schools Lose Big to Corporate Tax-Break Giveaways

Public school districts in South Carolina lost $423 million in property tax revenues during the 2019 fiscal year, due to tax abatements county governments granted to corporations.

That’s an increase of $99 million – or 31 percent – compared to just two years earlier, according to a new Good Jobs First report released today: “The Revenue Impact of Corporate Tax Incentives on South Carolina Public Schools.”

The property tax losses hit already-struggling districts hard: Six school districts with some of the highest poverty rates in the state, as measured by the share of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, each lost more than $2,000 per student. Four of those have majority Black plus Latino student populations.

The school districts are located in the counties of Dorchester, Greenwood, Chester, Orangeburg, Barnwell, and Calhoun.

“Our new findings confirm what we have long suspected: that the poor pay more, that corporate tax breaks often disproportionately harm historically disadvantaged communities,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “Thanks to recent improvements in government reporting standards, we have clear evidence of those inequities, district by district.”

Out of the 81 public school districts in South Carolina, at least 72 suffered some negative revenue impact. By dollar amount, the biggest losses were reported by Berkeley County School District and Greenville County School District—$54 million and $41 million, respectively. Eleven others lost more than $10 million each: They are located in the counties of Greenville, Charleston, Anderson, Aiken, Lexington, Spartanburg, Chester, Florence, Richland, Lancaster, and York (see the study for an Appendix with revenue losses by county).

Lucas Smolcic Larson writes in the Island Packet about the views of teachers concerning the return to school.

The S.C. McClatchy newspapers asked educators if they felt ready to return to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Over 250 teachers, librarians, coaches and other educators from every corner of the state responded to the survey. The vast majority work at public schools, with about two-thirds reporting they will be required to teach students face-to-face starting this month or next.”

The teachers quoted are anonymous, for obvious reasons. Most are worried. Some are fearful.

Here are a few of the responses:

Lowcountry, more than 10 years. Everyone is confused, overwhelmed and plans are changing daily. Bottom line, I do not feel safe or valued.

Upstate, more than 10 years. My husband and I are both teachers. We have three young children. We updated our will last week. The stress and anxiety we are all feeling is affecting my entire family.

Midlands, 5-10 years. I expect to be exposed and possibly contract COVID. I am attempting to prepare my home and family if this occurs, and I have to quarantine … We have to look to our medical professionals as to how to handle this situation … They could not opt out of not going to work and neither can the educational professionals. Now is the time for us to step up, mask up and do our part to help our children.

Lowcountry, more than 10 years. It’s not a question of if there’s (going to be) an outbreak at school but WHEN. I feel like a pawn for the politicians and administrators. We teach so as to empower students in our classrooms, yet here we are totally dis-empowered as teachers. These cracks were evident before COVID-19, but the pandemic has widened them into canyons.

Jen Gibson, who lives in Charleston, writes about how school choice will drain resources from underfunded public schools while not providing access to better schools or better education:

Normally this time of year, my son and I are on the hunt for new shoes and the perfect pencil pouch. This year, we are struggling with masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.

Like most parents, our family is wrestling with decisions about our work schedules, our vulnerable parents, and our child’s academic and social needs. All of our energy is focused on supporting students, teachers and our community during this unprecedented crisis.

That is why I was shocked and saddened when U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Henry McMaster and S.C. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, took advantage of this crisis to declare war on our public schools with their coordinated effort to move tax dollars allocated for public schools into private schools.

Under the guise of giving parents a choice, deceitful Republicans are trying to divert millions of our tax dollars to subsidize elite private schools. They argue that low-income students and parents deserve the choice to opt out of their poorly-performing public school. I have bad news for them. Research proves that vouchers for private schools will not improve educational outcomes for students.

Forget the fact that vouchers won’t even pay for the basic tuition at a local private school. Let’s talk about book fees, uniform costs, fieldtrip fees, transportation costs and the loss of income for the parent who no longer has access to before- and after-school childcare. Most students will stay in their neighborhood public school because a private school education is still out of reach.

Those who can scrape together the additional money to add to the government assistance will have to navigate the complicated world of evaluating private schools. These schools do not have to meet the same education standards as our public schools and are not legally required to provide accommodations to students with special needs.

In South Carolina, the money to pay for the tax credit comes directly from the budget of the public school the student would have attended. Tax money collected for public schools which are supposed to benefit the entire community will instead benefit individual students and private businesses. This weakens our public schools, and it does not guarantee individual students will have access to a better education.

Since 2008, South Carolina House members have not fully funded the Base Student Cost. They use a loophole in the law to avoid appropriating the actual cost of providing every student with even a minimally-adequate education. If the voucher/choice legislation that has been proposed passes, the state legislature will take even more money away from our cash-strapped public schools and jeopardize the education system responsible for over 90 percent of our students.

Do you know what would make education choices easier for parents? Public schools that deliver more than a minimally-adequate education for every student.

Let’s try that first

A judge in South Carolina granted a temporary restraining order to stop the governor from giving $32 million of the state’s $48 million in coronavirus relief to pay for vouchers.

Governor McMaster wanted to use coronavirus relief aid to pay the tuition of 5,000 kids in private schools while stiffing the 800,000 kids in public schools.

It is not clear why pandemic relief money should be diverted to vouchers when it was intended to protect the health of students.

Not so fast, governor. A judge hit the pause button, at least temporarily, on Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s plan to put $32 million in federal COVID-19 aid toward helping parents with private school tuition this year. As reported by The Post and Courier’s Jamie Lovegrove, Orangeburg attorney Skyler Hutto filed a motion in court claiming that the effort to give public funds for private school tuition goes against the state constitution. Judge Edgar Dickson granted Hutto — who is the son of longtime Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto — a temporary restraining order in the matter. As Free Times was going to press, court arguments were set to be heard in the matter this week. As reported by Lovegrove, Hutto filed the suit on behalf of a public educator from Orangeburg and cited a section of the state constitution that says, “No money shall be paid from public funds nor shall the credit of the State or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

Meanwhile, McMaster’s office insists the governor’s plan is proper. “Working families in South Carolina are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic and every parent should have the opportunity to choose the educational instruction that best suits their child’s needs,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said. “Federal coronavirus relief cannot, and should not, be denied to any citizen in need.”

Convoluted logic.

Congress appropriated $13.2 billion for public schools to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic, which is causing cuts and layoffs.

South Carolina received $48 million in CARES funds.

Governor Henry McMaster has allotted $32 million of that total to underwrite vouchers for private schools.

Dr. Thomasena Adams, an educator and resident of Orangeburg, South Carolina, filed suit to block the Governor’s action. The lawsuit says the governor is giving a disproportionate amount of money to the 5,000 students who use vouchers, while shorting the 800,000 in public schools.

A circuit court judge in Orangeburg signed a temporary restraining order to block disbursement of the $32 million to voucher students.

Under the governor’s plan, students in Orangeburg public schools will receive $473 each, while voucher students will receive $6,500 each.

 

I have written before about Arnold and Carol Hillman. See here and here. They were educators in Pennsylvania who retired to South Carolina. Being educators, they couldn’t really retire; they got involved. They created an organization called the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools, to raise awareness of the schools that are underfunded in impoverished rural areas (check out its Facebook page). They visited the public schools of Jasper County, met the students, and discovered their new purpose in life. Arnold created a club for boys called the Jasper Gentlemen. Carol created a club for girls called the Diamonds and Pearls. They raised money to pay for trips, experiences, blazers, pizza, and college visits. I hear from them from time to time. They are wild about these kids and want them to have good lives. They love them.

Here is their latest report:

 

Benefits of the ROSO (Reach One Save One) Program

By Carol and Arnold Hillman founders of SCORS (South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools)

Four Years Ago:

In 2015 Carol and Arnold Hillman approached Dr. Vashti Washington, then superintendent of the Jasper County Schools. They said, “We just moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina and want to learn about public education in our new home. She directed them to Dr. L.R. Dinkins, who described his idea of the ROSO program (Reach One Save One). His vision was for a group of high school students to learn leadership, problem-solving and important life skills that would not only benefit them but teach them to mentor 5th graders who were in need of some special attention.

Diamonds and Pearls and the Jasper Gentlemen were born.

Today:

May 22, 2019, was an exciting and tiring day. We took Carol’s group, “Diamonds and Pearls,” to the University of South Carolina. The 10 girls, who are freshman and sophomores at the Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School in Jasper County, SC, spent a wonderful day learning about the University in particular and about higher education in general.

Dr. Pedersen, Dean of the College of Education at the University, is a member of the SCORS steering Committee and is frequently in touch with us and other members of the committee. Carol had been describing her work with the young ladies to Dr. Pedersen when he extended an invitation to them.

We were fortunate that the Jasper County school district, on rather short notice, arranged for a small bus which allowed us to wend our way two hours plus across route 95 and then route 26 to Columbia.

After what the girls felt was an “all too short” visit to one of the USC’s bookstores, they had opportunities to interact with many of the members of the USC College of Education. They took a tour of the campus and even meet Pierce McNair, who is the legislative aide to Chairperson Rep. Rita Allison, chairman of the SC House Education Committee.

The girls, who had never visited USC before, were thrilled. It was so reassuring to learn about the many programs that are in place to help minorities succeed on this big campus. We learned that African American women have the highest completion rate of any group attending the University and saw an exhibit about major events that struck our country in 1968- assassinations of MLK and Robert Kennedy. Perhaps most impressive were the stories members of the Education Dept. shared with us about their own backgrounds and the many different jobs they held as they made their way to their present positions.

The Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Hodges, offered that he and his staff would be happy to come to Jasper County to speak to our students and staff.

Not only did our girls get to know the University, but the visit gave the Jasper County School District an opportunity to showcase some of their outstanding students.

The University is looking for good students, and our students are looking for good colleges. A visit such as the one we made is more meaningful that just completing on online application or reading that application.

You may have read an article posted on the scors.org website about how colleges, very frequently, do not mine rural students, either scholastically or athletically. We are hoping our visit opened new pathways and an understanding of our students, who are fair representatives of our part of rural South Carolina.

Diamonds and Pearls and the Jasper Gents have been at this work for four years, many of the senior boys have become so competent that this year, the elementary school gave the Gents an additional group of fifth grade boys who were very troubled. The seniors did a special job with those boys and from what we can tell, had some positive impact.

We are pleased to report that next year will be our fifth year working with these two groups. This year was especially gratifying because out of the seven senior Gents, six will be off to college and one will enter the Marine Corps.

20190522_133401IMG950821 copy

 

Peter Greene has a rapier sharp wit, which he wields so deftly that the object of his attention has been beheaded without knowing what happened. If you want to see him at his best, read this mystery: Who is murdering Charter Schools? 

Teachers?

Unions?

Lobbyists?

If you live in the real world, the people fighting privatization are heroic defenders of the commonweal, protecting the public interest against the Waltons, the Koch brothers, DeVos, and other private interests.