Bud testifies about the constitutional amendment

Just so you know Bud Ferillo thinks about more than spending Belinda Gergel’s money, here’s his testimony to the Senate subcommittee considering whether to amend the S.C. constitution to read that the state "will provide a high quality education, allowing each student to reach his highest potential."

Bud, as you may or may not know, is the guy who made the film, "Corridor of Shame:"

Presentation of Bud Ferillo
Senate Subcommittee
On S.1136
March 13, 2008
9:00 AM
          It is a privilege for me to address the subcommittee this morning, something I have never done before.
          While I served this state, in the 1970’s and 80’s as Chief of staff to House Speakers Rex Carter and Ramon Schwartz and as Deputy Lieutenant Governor under Lt. Gov. Mike Daniel, I come today as a private citizen still in awe of these halls and full of respect for those of you in both parties who serve our state today.
          The Constitution of the State of South Carolina which the legislation before you would amend was adopted in one of the most difficult periods of our state’s history by some of our most unenlightened elected officials. It was the era of Jim Crow and the long shadow of slavery has given way to legalized racial segregation, a cruel, one sided system of rights and privileges for the few over the many. It was not until 1911 that South Carolina attained a majority white population and so the constitution adopted in 1895 was not a declaration of human rights. In fact, it sought to enshrine the benefits of government only to those with political and economic power.
          Our racially segregated public schools remained separate and unequal for another two generations because that was state policy. Even with the Brown decision in 1954, rising from the school desegregation case of Briggs vs. Elliott in Clarendon County, it was not until Governor Hollings declared in 1963 as he left office that “South Carolina had run out of courts” and the state negotiated the admission of Harvey Garnett into Clemson University, followed a year later by the integration of USC and our public school system.
          This difficult history is painful to recall and painful to hear but it explains why we have attained no little progress in securing quality public education for all the children of the state. To be honest, we have not been about the business of providing quarterly education to all the children of South Carolina for very long.
          Even today, sadly, the legal position of our state in the Abbeville vs. State of South Carolina school funding case, still places South Carolina on the wrong side of history. This state continues to claim it has no obligation to provide even a “minimally adequate” education for our children.
          I have come to you today as a witness to the failure of our state to achieve either minimally adequate education or the opportunity for our children to achieve an excellent education which would equip them to contend in a world changing before their eyes at warp speed.
          My plea today is a simple one: I urge the General Assembly to put the issue of high quality public education to the people of this state to decide.
          Our sister states of Virginia and Florida have shown the way by amending their constitutions to require their states to provide high quality education to their children.
          A state’s constitution is its highest standard of governance; it is the document that enshrines our noblest aspirations; it is the final repository of who we are and what we care about as a people. While we were born into an unjust society in South Carolina; we do not have to grow old in it.
          I respectfully urge this subcommittee to favorably report S.1136 so that it might begin its rigorous journey through the legislative process and be given to the people of this state to determine in the general election of 2010. The amendment will serve a useful purpose in setting the highest standards of educational attainment against which future legislative actions and funding can be judged.
          My friend and ally John Rainey, who will address you shortly, and others across this state in a coalition too broad and lengthy to name will soon launch a petition campaign that will allow South Carolinians to participate directly in the legislative process.
          We will soon unveil the web site www.goodbyeminimallyadequate.com where South Carolinians may sign a petition in support of this constitutional amendment. It is our ambitious but accepted challenge to present the signatures of 1,000,000 South Carolinians in support of S.1136 to the General Assembly during the opening day of the 2009 General Assembly.
          We cannot miss this opportunity to involve the people of our state in this process which will, to a large extent tell, us everything about what kind of state we have and what kind of future we will pass on to those who follow.

I’m not entirely sure what practical effect Bud and other advocates believe this wording change will have. I mean, even based on the "minimally adequate" interpretation, all that a court case that started in about 10,000 B.C. has accomplished was a ruling saying South Carolina should do better at early-childhood education, to which the Legislature responded by nodding vigorously, expanding a pilot program, then forgetting about it.

Such a wording change might make a lot of folks feel better, but the fact is that if South Carolina wants to pull up its rural areas to the educational level of the suburbs — which it must do if we’re ever to begin to catch up to the rest of the country — it will do so, whether the constitution mentions education at all or not.

4 thoughts on “Bud testifies about the constitutional amendment

  1. weldon VII

    The ineffective structure of South Carolina’s educational bureaucracy, not the wording of the state constitution, is holding us back.
    Removing an incompetent person from the educational system — school board member, superintendent, administrator or teacher — is much easier to imagine than accomplish.
    The struggle for the education dollar, at least in my poor county, one of the poor counties in that suit that started back in 10,000 B.C., overlooks the welfare of the students and focuses on who’s getting paid, not how well they can do their jobs.
    When education becomes a meritocracy, it will work better. I anticipate that happening within two or three generations after the private schools finish failing economically, sometime during the 22nd century, if we’re lucky.

  2. Brad Warthen

    We’re all for that now — merit pay, giving principals full leeway to hire and fire. We just haven’t been able to get any traction with it. All of the political energy in this state gets spent on the “voucher” debate. Nobody discusses actual reform.

  3. weldon VII

    Merit pay, yes, but if superintendents and school boards can’t handle hiring and firing teachers in accordance with common sense and the law, why assume they can hire competent principals or that the principals they hire can cope with hiring and firing?
    My district has gone to an ingenious (wink) system to hire three new principals. The embattled superintendent, who replaced the former embattled superintendent, is putting together committees composed of staff at each school, parents, community members and the old principals to pick the new principals.
    I’m sure it’s just a PR ploy on the superintendent’s part, and I’m looking for it to backfire on him when he or the board that rubber stamps his every move winds up overruling one of the committees on its choice.
    This particular superintendent got fired from his last three jobs, so he came home to work, lives in the county next door and drives over every day to prove to anyone actually paying attention that he didn’t learn anything by being fired three times.
    He’s a genius at bad PR, hires old friends who’re out of work, promotes based on political connections, tells obvious lies, fires good people who stand up to him and makes veiled threats.
    With a winner like that at the helm, how could we trust the principals he hires to hire and fire? Not counting our career center, the one previous bright spot which has now been foolishly combined with our high school, we’ve got one school the state didn’t grade Unsatisfactory with Unsatisfactory improvement last year, and that school, above average for us, got Below Average with Unsatisfactory improvement.
    As far as I can tell, the only people doing anything to help our situation are the newspaper reporters who keep up with the shenanigans of the board and superintenent. The good board members have given up because they can’t outvote the rubber-stamp majority. The people of the community, at most, cry, “What a shame!”
    But they don’t cry very loud, because the state DOE didn’t want to listen last time they did, mostly because it didn’t have the power to do anything to help except take over the district itself, and that doesn’t historically help in the long run.
    So the largest industry in my county — public education — flails on, spending millions of dollars per annum on bricks and affirmative action as if reparation were all schools could accomplish.
    So few are the candidates for jobs in our public schools that the last teacher who was actually fired was hired back two years later because no one else could be found to fill the position.
    And this after our salary scale was raised to the same level as surrounding counties.
    What to do? Sad as it sounds, watch and wait.
    And hope.

  4. Lee Muller

    Teachers rank near the top of the pay scale in SC and in all other states. They make way more money than the medium taxpayer. They send their children to private school in greater numbers because they can afford to.
    Many teachers are underpaid for their skills, and many are overpaid. The National Teacher Certification does nothing to improve classroom instruction, but adds $10,000 to the annual salary.
    It does no good to increase teacher salaries (or anyone’s salaries), unless you intend to attract new and better teachers and dismiss the non-performers you have now. Why pay more money to the same people who are willing to work for less right now?
    There is a huge pool of people with the education to teach, who are blocked by certification barriers. There are many volunteers and teacher aides working in schools now who have education degrees, but they took time off to raise a family and need a few courses to become certified. If the state really wanted more teachers, all they have to do is help these people meet the artificial legal requirements. USC could offer classes in the summer and at night, if they were serious about education.


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