Though our University has been weaned slowly from dependence on the state government for support, the South Carolina school system has little else to lean on. Aside from federal allocations for certain programs and initiatives, the system receives limited funding from any source other than the South Carolina Legislature and Education Lottery. And with few schools consistently attaining the ever more demanding Adequate Yearly Progress goals of the No Child Left Behind education policy, even pleas for federal funding may go unheard this year. A high school in financial turmoil can’t look to the generosity of alumni, the bounty of research grants or even the last resort of tuition hikes to pay its bills. It can only cut teachers, guidance counselors and administrators, all the while hoping that the remainder can keep order — and maybe, just maybe, adequately educate their ever-growing student population.
As public education funding dwindles, it comes as no surprise that opportunities presented to students are diminished. While the relative hardship that the fine arts curriculum faces in dire times is well-known, career and technical education also suffers considerably, and comparatively, many more students experience the negative effects of its loss. Research conducted nationwide has shown that the availability of CTE classes in high schools directly corresponds to dropout rates. Students with little love for the Shakespeare they read in English class might discover that their passion for business law, engineering or architecture merits graduating.
Industry also favors technical education — it’s no coincidence that school districts surrounding the lauded BMW and Boeing plants have excellent business and technical curricula. The expertise they develop enables students to live and work in their hometowns, a boon to both South Carolina business and residents. In fact, businesses have found that students coming from CTE-friendly secondary schools, regardless of their level of higher education, are more prepared for the demands of the workplace. With that in mind, a substantial cut to public school education represents something greater: a substantial decrease in the employability of South Carolina youth, who, if current funding trends continue, might face an even tougher job market than the ones all of us will soon encounter.
So the next time you hear about budget cuts, remember the “little guys” of the state education budget — and shout protests (and maybe expletives) for them, too.