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S.C. Superintendent Proposes Rural Consolidation, Virtual Programs

South Carolina's superintendent of education Molly Spearman is calling for state legislators to consider a series of reforms that would aim to improve outcomes for rural students, according to The State.

Spearman encouraged lawmakers to raise the starting teacher salary and expand virtual education programs so rural schools can offer more classes. She also said the state should provide incentives for school districts to consolidate and outlined a plan that would provide grant money for rural districts to improve school buildings.

Although a South Carolina House education panel has proposed a loan program to help pay for the proposal, Spearman said that program will not provide enough help for cash-strapped rural districts. "They're going to need the state to come in and really help build those buildings (and) set up the technology that's needed," Spearman said.

In 2014, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of more than two dozen school districts that sued the state for failing to provide a "minimally adequate" education for rural students. In the ruling, Chief Justice Jean Toal also blamed districts for using the little funding available to prioritize athletic facilities while rural students attended "crumbling schools and toxic academic environments." The court also directed legislators to create a plan to improve rural school districts.

Since that ruling, various legislators and panels have proposed solutions for rural schools, including raising teacher salaries and providing stipends to improve retention. Last year, the South Carolina House approved a budget amendment that asked the state's teacher advocacy center to develop an incentive program to recruit and retain teachers in rural areas. Lawmakers have also considered consolidation as a way to free up funds and potentially improve education for students. 

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