Opinion Extra

Op-ed: 50 years after desegregation ruling, SC schools remain separate and unequal

I have always maintained that anything that has happened before can happen again. And if we fail to be vigilant and exercise diligence, we may find ourselves reliving some of our not-so-pleasant history.

This week we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, one of those events so monumental that many of us can remember exactly where we were and were doing when it occurred. I was walking home from segregated Lincoln High School in Sumter, South Carolina, when I heard of the decision. We rejoiced at the United States Supreme Court’s acknowledgement that “separate but equal” was inherently unequal. South Carolina, however, was very slow to comply and made no serious attempts to do so until the 1970s.

While Brown v. Board was a landmark decision, it was not a panacea for equalization of educational facilities and curricula in South Carolina schools. I currently represent the school district where Brown v. Board originated. Clarendon County School District 1, which was District 26 when Harry and Eliza Briggs and 26 other families sued to end inequality in South Carolina’s public school, is 95% minority and 100% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

None of the students take advance placement courses, but the District is fulfilling the South Carolina’s minimally adequate standard for our state supported public schools. Without proper facilities and adequate resources, students in Clarendon District #1 and scores of other school districts are little better off todaythan they were before Brown v. Board. Today many of our children are attending classes in crumbling buildings with inadequate facilities and equipment; and we must now add a new deficiency to the list – access to the internet.

Several years ago, I was informed that the broadband adoption rate in the households of Clarendon District 1 is just 34 percent. Yet South Carolina now mandates state testing via computers and modern textbooks are online. Students in districts like Clarendon 1 can neither comply with the state testing mandates or utilize online textbooks. Many of them do their homework while sitting in automobiles parked in the lots of libraries and fast food businesses. They are being failed by the State’s minimally adequate standard.”

In response to the 2008 economic downturn, Congress enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that pulled the country back from the brink of disaster. To make sure that rural counties and low-income communities did not get left out, I devised, and successfully inserted into several agriculture accounts of the ARRA, a formula to target resources into needy communities.

My 10-20-30 formula directs that at least 10 percent of funding be directed to areas where 20 percent or more of their residents have lived at or below the poverty line for the last 30 years or more. It was a tremendous asset to persistent poverty communities and worked famously then and can do so again. Today, Congress and the President are considering a massive infrastructure package and I am fighting to insert 10-20-30 into various accounts throughout the budget.

Our Declaration of Independence intones that all citizens are created equal. But without equitable access to affordable resources, some citizens and communities find themselves separate and unequal. We must be vigorous and vigilant in our efforts to educate our children, support challenged communities and protect our citizens.

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn represents South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District.