South Carolina March for Equity in Education
Columbia, South Carolina
Given by Richard W. Riley
Senior Partner, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP
Former US Secretary of Education
Former Governor of South Carolina
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and we want to urge our leaders to build on the courage of Reverend Joseph DeLaine, and Harry Briggs and the others. They believed in our democracy, and they stood up for their children's education -- and here we are 50 years later, standing up for the same high purpose.
Thank you all for coming out this morning and standing up for quality education for all children of South Carolina.
And that's why you are here -- because you love South Carolina and you love our great democracy called America. You're here because you know that our future is directly tied to education. The future of every child in our State is directly tied to his or her education. And the future of the children in our poor, rural school districts . . . their future is also tied to education, and they also are our children.
If we are to have the kind of future for all of our children that each of us wants, this must be a day of change for our State -- change from rocking along and getting by to facing the future with excitement and purpose and strong support for education.
You are patriotic and concerned citizens who are doing the right thing for the children of our great State.
And I am especially proud this morning of all the teachers and principals in this State who are working so hard to help all of our children, black and white, get a decent education.
I am here today because I believe in the power of education. I've seen it work, and I know what a good teacher can do to open up a child's mind and get it sparking.
No child in this State should be told that they cannot learn. No child should be subjected to what I have called the "tyranny of low expectations."
No child in this State should be denied an equal chance to get a decent education. Just because a child lives in an area that has a low tax base does not mean he or she should have a cheap education.
Inez Tenenbaum and many others have worked hard to improve education in our State. But we are still near the bottom on some important statistics, including high school graduate rates. Some of the rural school districts we are especially concerned about have a high school graduation rate as low as 50%.
Instead of leaving no single child behind, parts of South Carolina are leaving 50% of our children behind. We seem to have two South Carolinas when it comes to education.
If we educate many of our children for dead-end jobs or no jobs at all, what will become of those children? The days of dropping out of school to work in the mill are long gone. So their lives will be a serious struggle.
If we educate only some of our children to get ahead and stay ahead, our State's economy will just limp along.
I spent a lot of time sitting behind the Governor's desk in the State House -- eight full years -- and I can tell you that one of the main jobs for any governor, Republican or Democrat, is to encourage new business to come to the state or encourage current businesses to expand.
My friends, the main thing these prospective businesses look at is the education level of a state -- and more than that, they look at the state's education commitment for the future. A state with a strong education commitment is the place where businesses want to locate.
And when you are struggling to create jobs and growth, the one thing you should NOT do is cut $450 million out of the state budget for public education. This is what has happened in South Carolina over the last four years.
Every business leader and every Chamber of Commerce member in this State needs to tune into this reality: South Carolina's future prosperity depends on the power of education, and right now we are losing steam . . . we are losing momentum.
My friends, this is not just about education, this is about the long-term economic future and prosperity of our State. It's about our quality of life.
In this new era of globalization, our South Carolinians must be able to have the kind of education that enables them to move quickly into new jobs and be attractive prospects for new business.
We must have some clear education priorities here in South Carolina.
First of all, we should always fully fund the Education Finance Act and make sure that funding for the Education Improvement Act is properly directed to education improvement. This basic funding level is part of State law and should always be a first priority.
And, let me suggest some new goals for us in connection with educating our children.
The first new goal I recommend is that, in four years time, South Carolina will increase its high school graduation rate by cutting our dropout rate in half.
And eight years from now, we will graduate 100% of our high school students. Why settle for less when we need 100% of our children graduating from high school?
Every child a graduate! Every child a graduate!
That must be our motto and our commitment to every young person in South Carolina.
And, for a second goal, no young person in this State should be denied the opportunity to get a college education if he or she is academically prepared. Strong technical colleges and strong universities must be a part of our State's future.
My fellow South Carolinians, we must come together and recognize that the status quo just won't do. We cannot have a large portion of our State going forward and prospering, while the rest of our population struggles to make ends meet and gives up hope.
That's a no-win strategy -- economically, socially and educationally. It's a strategy that leaves you stuck in one place going nowhere, living in the past, while the rest of the world passes you by.
South Carolina needs to stop looking backward and start thinking a lot harder about a future for all of our children.
We need to give up our obsession with the past. When the future is coming at you at 90 miles per hour, you need to look up and get moving forward. What happened in 1865 is less important today than what we do together for all of our children in 2004, 2010, 2020 and into the future.
My friends, let's get busy using the power of education to build a new future for South Carolina. I close with our State motto: "While I breathe, I hope."
Let's roll up our sleeves and recognize that hope grows when a child can read . . . hope grows when a young adolescent can do algebra and learn to be a good citizen & hope grows when a young person graduates from high school and is prepared for college . . . and hope grows when all of the young people of South Carolina, with all of their talent, get the skills they need for the 21 st Century.
South Carolina can have a bright and prosperous future if we come together and believe again in the power of education for all of our children.