Higher literacy in Eritrea than Allendale, McCormick, Williamsburg, Clarendon and Lee Counties, South Carolina. Total state spending on K-12 education in South Carolina equal to entire GDP of Eritrea.
Politician Jim Rex is always looking to showboat. Only by calling for more and more money can he hope to drive attention away from systematic failures -like the widening achievements gap between students- that define South Carolina’s public schools as the nation’s worst.
Speaking to the Rotary Club in Columbia on Monday, Superintendent Rex likened rural public school districts to the Third World. Hard-hitting reporters from the State Newspaper were there, and filed the following account:
Jim is right. According to the Budget and Control Board, South Carolina will spend $3.2 billion in state money on K-12 education in 2009. This makes state spending on South Carolina’s public school system equivalent to the entire economy of Eritrea, a country in northeastern Africa with a GDP of $3.2 billion. Eritrea beat its long time rivals the Central African Republic ($2.9 billion), Lesotho ($2.8 billion), and Burundi ($2.7 billion) to win this distinction, despite the fact that it has only existed as a sovereign nation since 1991, when it broke from Ethiopia after thirty years of bloody civil war.
Eritrea is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. Eritrea is home to 5 million people with an average life expectancy of 60 years each and a per-capita income of $1,000. South Carolina’s public schools are home to 694,642 students, with per-pupil spending averaging $11,480.
While students in Eritrean schools receive an average of five years of classroom instruction, the adult literacy rate is 58.6 percent – or roughly the same as the adult literacy in Allendale, McCormick, Williamsburg, Clarendon and Lee Counties. That’s because in South Carolina’s public high schools, only 52.2 percent of students are proficient in reading. (we can only guess what the literacy level is among the 53 percent who dropout of high school).
Rex may lack any educational credibility, but he is right to describe his public schools as similar to those in pre-industrialized nations. The graft and waste that drain 54 cents per dollar away from classroom instruction are an excellent example of third-world style corruption.
Editors Note: Were we to consider all spending in South Carolina’s public schools (federal and local as well as the $3.2 billion in state funding), the total would approach $8 billion, or comfortably above the $7.4 billion GDP of Mongolia, which has an astounding 98.7 percent adult literacy.