Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

(Columbia) The State. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: Want your vote to count? Grab some popcorn and keep an eye on SC legislature

Redistricting and gerrymandering aren’t sexy.

No summer blockbusters or viral videos will highlight the drawing of legislative districts.

But if ensuring that South Carolina is divided into districts that allow all South Carolinians to have a voice in their government appeals to you, well then you’ll want to check out this hot new streaming service.

Starting Tuesday, the State Senate will host 10 public hearings across the state designed to give you an opportunity to learn about the process and speak up with your concerns and questions as the state determines the boundaries of the 46 state Senate districts, 124 state House districts and seven U.S. House districts.

Lynn Teague, Vice President for Issues and Action for the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, will be watching and her team will be using the hashtag #wearewatching to make sure legislators know it.

“Our ultimate concern is one of human nature,” Teague said, explaining that the league wants to make sure legislators are serving the public interest rather than their own private interests.

She wants South Carolinians to watch with her because redistricting “will determine whether your vote matters or not.”

The goal should be to design legislative districts without gerrymandering, defined by the Brennan Center for Justice as “the practice of drawing districts to favor one political party or racial group” that skews election results, “makes races less competitive, hurts communities of color, and thwarts the will of the voters.”

Teague said South Carolina’s districts are currently biased toward the majority party, adding, “On the whole, our maps are very non-competitive.”

So what is redistricting?

The State Senate offers this definition:

Redistricting means redrawing the boundaries of districts from which public officials are elected. Members of the United States House of Representatives, the South Carolina Senate, and the South Carolina House of Representatives are elected by voters who live in those districts. Federal law requires that a census of the population of the United States be taken every ten years. The final census data becomes available to the state the year after the census is completed.

The website All About Redistricting, hosted by Loyola Law School, adds that “redistricting is the way we change the districts that determine who represents us.”

It’s a process rooted in the U.S. Constitution, though the document does not specifically mention the term redistricting or the particulars of how the process works today.

The 2020 U.S. Census data used in redistricting will initially be released on Aug. 16 with more user-friendly versions of the same data expected to be released in September.

The data will include the population breakdown along with demographics including ethnicity, race and voting age at all levels of geography down to the block level, according to the U.S. Census.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, each state operates under certain criteria when making redistricting decisions with that data.

Traditionally that includes:

- Compactness: Having the minimum distance between all the parts of a constituency (a circle, square or a hexagon is the most compact district).

- Contiguity: All parts of a district being connected at some point with the rest of the district.

- Preservation of counties and other political subdivisions: This refers to not crossing county, city, or town, boundaries when drawing districts.

- Preservation of communities of interest: Geographical areas, such as neighborhoods of a city or regions of a state, where the residents have common political interests that do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision, such as a city or county.

- Preservation of cores of prior districts: This refers to maintaining districts as previously drawn, to the extent possible. This leads to continuity of representation.

- Avoiding pairing incumbents: This refers to avoiding districts that would create contests between incumbents.

South Carolina will take the data and determine what districts you live in based on the criteria it has adopted.

Again, it’s not terribly exciting in the short term, but the long-term results will determine who is elected and the future of your towns, counties and state.

You can watch the hearings online or stop by one of the hearings when it comes to your part of the state. Either way, we ask you to pay attention.

“Legislators need to know we appreciate all their great work, but we’re going to be keeping an eye on them,” Teague said.

So, break out the popcorn, click on the Legislature’s website starting tomorrow night at 6:30 , share your thoughts with the #wearewatching hashtag on social media, and enjoy (and participate in) the show.

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The (Charleston) Post and Courier. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: Private summer and after-school could be smart addition to SC school efforts

It might seem strange to ask the Legislature to spend $50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding for private and nonprofit after-school and summer programs when public schools already have $3 billion in emergency funds they could use to offer such programs.

But South Carolina has no more important task than providing a decent education to all students, many of whom suffered learning loss that has the potential to do irreversible damage because they were already struggling as a result of the inadequate job we were doing before the pandemic.

And while it will be a challenge for schools to spend a sudden influx of $3 billion well — we have grave concerns that many districts lack the capacity to put their emergency funding to the best use — the money amounts to only about a 6% increase in the total local, state and federal funds the schools would have received over the three years they have to spend it. Given the scope of learning loss and how far behind we were pre-pandemic, that means there’s plenty of room to put additional funding to good use to help kids who need the most help.

The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox reports that Gov. Henry McMaster’s AccelerateSC task force wants the Legislature to use $50 million of a separate $2.5 billion pot of COVID funding to pay for after-school tutoring and summer programs for low-income, low-performing students.

An outline developed by the governor’s office calls for giving $1,000 grants to parents to pay for tutoring, instructional or curriculum materials or after-school education programs. But task force members seemed particularly intrigued by an idea pitched by Akil Ross, interim superintendent of the Lexington-Richland 5 School District, to provide funds that would allow churches, civic organizations and parks and recreation departments to expand and move their small wrap-around summer and after-school programs “to sustainability.”

Dr. Ross, a USC education professor and 2017 national high school teacher of the year whose education consulting company runs one such program in a low-income apartment complex, told his colleagues on the panel that a big difference between children who do well in school and those who fail is that the successful kids live in communities that provide enrichment outside of the school day, rather than just the 21% of the time they spend in schools.

Ideally, the schools would use a hefty chunk of their federal funding to provide creative and enticing extended-day and summer programs for the kids whose education suffered the most during a year of disrupted classes — and who tend to be the kids who were the furthest behind before the pandemic.

Some schools will. But that’s entirely up to the school districts. While S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is offering matching funds if they offer programs that focus on proven approaches such as engaging, enriching summer learning, one-on-one tutoring and yearlong programs before and after normal school hours, federal law gives her almost no control over how districts spend the federal money. The governor and the Legislature have none.

And even if all the districts decided to use all of their emergency funding to address learning loss (by law, only 20% has to go to that), devoting it all to summer and after-school programs would mean not using it on such potentially smart investments as covering the start-up costs of converting to Montessori or building apprenticeship or dual-enrollment programs that could last well past the pandemic.

Of course, the governor’s plan is only as good as the details. Some of the conversation at Thursday’s meeting gave the proposal the uncomfortable feel of serving as a proxy for Mr. McMaster’s ill-advised effort to pay parents to abandon the public schools, which was struck down by the state Supreme Court.

It’s not at all the same, because our public schools have never really been in the business of providing after-school or anything but the most bare-bones of remedial summer programs, but it’s still important to vet the programs that receive either direct or indirect tax funding, just as we do with early childhood education programs offered through S.C. First Steps. Although it’s true that in many cases parents know what’s best for their children, it’s also true that organizations that see a big pot of free money can be a lot better at selling themselves to parents than at providing useful services to the children.

Coordination also will be important, to ensure we’re making the best use of this one-time funding. A lot of money will be wasted if school districts staff up for summer and after-school programs for the kids who need it most, but parents spend their $1,000 state grants to send those kids to summer school or after-school programs operated by nonprofits. Similarly, a lot of kids could miss out on the help they need if schools decide not to offer those programs because they think no one will enroll, but the only programs available locally are glorified child-care centers.

And lawmakers will need to ensure that the program really is targeted to poor kids who are behind.

But if the Legislature is willing to work out those details, this could be a smart addition to the schools’ efforts to catch up the kids who need help the most.

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The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. July 23, 2021.

Editorial: Preserving battlefields is a priority

Many locally know of Eutaw Springs battlefield and its importance in the Revolutionary War for American independence. What transpired in the Southern colonies and in particular in South Carolina cannot be underestimated in importance. More Americans need to know about these chapters in our history.

From DiscoverSouthCarolina.com: “South Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War may not get the recognition of states like Massachusetts (Bunker Hill), Virginia (Yorktown) or Pennsylvania (Valley Forge). But upward of 200 battles and skirmishes -- more than any U.S. state -- took place here.

“Several are indelibly etched into the fabric of the state. Among the most acclaimed is the 1776 Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Fort Sullivan survived the Royal Navy’s cannon strikes because the balls bounced off the soft wood of palmetto logs used to construct the patriot fortification. It’s why the palmetto tree adorns the state flag today.

“The years 1780-81 were especially successful for the Southern campaign with several battles that helped save the patriot cause, including the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens -- called “the best-planned battle of the entire war” by some historians -- and the Battle of Kings Mountain, considered the turning point of the revolution in the South.”

South Carolina’s leaders want to be sure that the state’s Revolutionary War battlefields are preserved – and they are united in the effort.

Sixth District Congressman Jim Clyburn is leading a bipartisan effort to preserve and showcase important Revolutionary War sites in both North and South Carolina and create a new trail linking those sites.

In a rare show of unity in gridlocked Washington, Clyburn is joined by all the GOP House members from South Carolina in support of the Southern Campaign of the Revolution National Heritage Corridor Act.

The push to establish federal protection over the scores of historic sites has stretched more than a decade, when former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-York, spearheaded the measure.

In 2019, GOP Reps. Tom Rice and Ralph Norman and Clyburn introduced the legislation again. But it made little progress.

“There are many communities and areas throughout South Carolina that were instrumental in securing American victory in the Revolutionary War,” Norman said in a statement. “These areas have not been sufficiently recognized or preserved from a historic standpoint. We cannot lose that part of our heritage, which is why this bill is important. And it’s great to see every member of the South Carolina delegation to the House on board with this effort.”

But South Carolina’s politicians are staying optimistic that this could be the year it crosses the finish line.

The route would begin west of Charleston before winding through parts of the Lowcountry and into the Midlands and Upstate before cutting into western North Carolina and then heading east to the ocean. Nearly three-dozen specific sites are covered.

In June, Clyburn testified before the House Subcommittee on National Park, Forests, and Public Lands to pitch the bill and educate lawmakers on how important the Carolinas were to the Revolutionary War.

“It is a personal mission of mine to increase public awareness of, and appreciation for, natural, historical, scenic and cultural resources associated with the Southern Campaign,” Clyburn said June 15. “It is my hope that the creation of this Heritage Corridor will also draw visitors to battlefields and historical landmarks located in communities across the Carolinas that are rich in history.”

The congressman’s mission deserves support.

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