"But aren't the schools really bad there?" — that's the signature message my parents received from family and friends when they announced their intention to relocate to South Carolina from Connecticut.
Actually, our schools are not bad here. Not only did the Charleston County School District receive an excellent rating this year, it's home to some of the best schools in the state. Academic Magnet High School was recently rated the No. 1 high school in South Carolina by U.S. News, while School of Arts was rated No. 3.
The same can't be said for the schools in the counties along Interstate-95 in the eastern part of the state. The schools there are overwhelmingly underfunded. Even worse, this area has been christened "The Corridor of Shame" after Bud Ferillo's documentary detailing the horrific conditions of schools in the area.
Envision an 111-year-old warehouse-turned-schoolroom with no heat or air conditioning, no desks or chairs, just decaying walls and decade-old textbooks. That was the case for the students at the J.V. Martin Middle School in Dillon, S.C. There the students were reading at least three-grade levels below their own. J.V. Martin has since been replaced by a new school.
In January 2014, Gov. Nikki Haley spoke of her commitment to reform public school funding for the poor districts of the state. She even described the state of these schools as "immoral," yet these areas continue to be neglected.
Public education funding is fueled by a combination of federal money and property taxes, a system that allows prosperous areas, like Charleston, to expand their education system while poverty-stricken districts lack the means to heat and cool their schools, let alone purchase technology. Adding insult to injury, many of the schools in the Corridor of Shame are also denied federal funding because students are unable to pass the tests required by No Child Left Behind. As a first grader battling for warmth and evading hunger, how can you concentrate on learning addition or spelling when the education system so clearly does not value you?
Enter recreational marijuana.
On Nov. 4, Alaska and Oregon were added to the list of U.S. states that now allow the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington.
Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana this past January, accumulating $3.5 million in taxes and fees in the first month. The state decided that every year the first $40 million in marijuana tax revenue would be used to fund education. Here in South Carolina, marijuana growth could stimulate the economy, create jobs, and provide us with a stable means to begin fixing our schools.
Some believe that the Palmetto State's conservative politics will hinder legalization efforts for years to come. However, considering the shabby state of our schools, it's high time to put aside partisan politics and collaborate for the benefit of the children in our state.
In June, Gov. Haley signed bill S. 1035 into action; this bill allows people with seizures to legally obtain cannabidiol, a component found in marijuana, as a medical treatment. This new law has launched a conversation about cannabis statewide. Hopefully, it will inspire lawmakers, citizens of the state, and Charleston County residents to reconsider marijuana's potential benefit to our state.
As one of the more influential and prosperous parts of South Carolina, Charleston should push our district representatives for a more definite plan to improve education statewide. It is truly humiliating to see the way that state politicians have continued to deliberately abandon struggling schools, and it is our duty to speak for the voiceless when we can.
Here in the Palmetto State we have sublime weather, live oaks covered with spanish moss, honey smeared on cornbread, college football, unyielding pride in our heritage and in our state. But for us to ignore a section of our state is to ignore a fatal wound. We're all interconnected, and in order for a body to function properly, all parts must be maintained. If a portion of our state is hurting, then we need to tend to it.
It is indisputable that some of the schools in South Carolina are literally collapsing, and if marijuana can offer one possible avenue to provide significant funding, then we must evaluate the advantages of this solution and together step into the future.
Samantha Connors is a member of the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy club at the College of Charleston.