Legislative Hotlist: January 17, 2023
Week one of session has come to a close—with the inauguration ceremony and the Governor’s Ball, we had a slow start. For that reason, I thought I’d revive my history degree and do a deep dive into the historical significance of Rosenwald Schools and the opportunity they provide for conservation. After last week’s hotlist, I got a ton of feedback from readers about how excited they were about our plans—I am too!
But first, some news from this week: First and foremost, we have been rolling out CVSC’s new website, and we are excited to introduce our new bill tracker! It is early in session, so there isn’t much to report yet, but in the near future, this will be your one-stop-shop for any of the bills CVSC is tracking!
The House Ways and Means Committee has already been busy with a host of budget subcommittee meetings and a full committee hearing on H.3604, the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Contingency Reserve Fund bill. The new Chairman, Bruce Bannister, introduced an amendment to the bill to send $500-million from the contingency fund to the Department of Commerce to fund economic development projects. Secretary Lightsey used his time in front of the committee to highlight the transformational times we are living in. Specifically, he talked about the changes in the automobile industry that have resulted in billions of dollars invested into the state for electric vehicle and battery manufacturing. He also noted that huge investments were being made in renewable energies like solar and wind to help meet business sustainability goals. I sense that “transformational” theme will continue this year with another huge budget surplus the General Assembly gets to spend – we are excited to see money and focus on bringing more green industries and green jobs into the state!
As it relates to ARPA – the committee decided to allocate the rest of those funds – $568.6-million – to the Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) for water and sewer projects. RIA noted that they had received over $2-billion in requests and only had a fraction of that money to award. This helps to make up the difference and gets us one step closer to ensuring everyone has access to clean, safe drinking water. A big thank you to Chairman Bannister for introducing the amendment!
Rosenwald, a Deep Dive: During the first half of the twentieth century, a time when schools for black children were horribly inadequate, Rosenwald Schools facilitated the education of over one-third, or 700,000, of those students. They were funded by Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish Philanthropist and President of Sears, after he developed a relationship with Booker T. Washington, a newly freedman and founder of the Tuskegee Institute. Rosenwald was inspired by Washington’s work at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and his lifelong passion for education for African-Americans. These one or two room school buildings were helped along by community donations, and eventually, over 5,000 schools were built across the rural south. The availability of this educational opportunity created a pipeline for black students to access higher education and jobs that could support their families. These opportunities meant that Rosenwald Schools played a critically important role in helping to build the civil rights movement. Alumni of these schools include Maya Angelou, Congressman John Lewis, and members of the Little Rock Nine.
What do Rosenwald Schools have to do with Land Conservation? The Rosenwald Funds were structured as “match grants,” which means local communities had to raise thousands of dollars in order to begin construction. But, they also had to donate their land for the site. Rosenwald School sites are located throughout the State, usually on 3-4 acres of land that was donated by the African-American communities they served. Where buildings still exist, many are in need of restoration and/or interpretation and where buildings don’t exist the land itself still holds the story of the school that once stood. If protected, these schools and school sites can offer public green spaces and historic interpretation for rural communities with less access to those amenities and resources.
The benefits of green space access are well known, leading not only to positive environmental outcomes but improved mental and physical health as well. Protection of these schools and school sites in a state-wide protection network offers an opportunity to protect these important cultural landmarks while also providing public parks. Once these sites are protected they can also serve as a catalyst for the protection of surrounding areas in these communities.
Roughly 40 of the nearly 500 Rosenwald schools have been cataloged, meaning over 400 of these sites are in need of identification and protection or have already been lost. Protecting these schools and their stories is an urgent need.
What Can we do at the Legislature? Unsurprisingly, protecting Rosenwald Schools and building out a system of Rosenwald parks is going to require funding and awareness. CVSC is currently exploring the different vehicles for that funding and we are working with the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism to determine the amount of money needed and where it should be directed. We can look to other models to help guide us, but this would be a new, exciting opportunity for South Carolina.
We Can’t do this Alone: We are so thankful for the partners who are stepping up to make this happen. We have to give a huge shout out to the WeGoja Foundation. Their expertise in preserving and protecting African American historical landmarks has been invaluable to our understanding of this issue. Additionally, we’ve been able to work with the Pine Grove Rosenwald School in Columbia and the St. George Rosenwald School – they are both shining examples of how to preserve and protect these landmarks. Finally, the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, Representative Patricia Henegan, Representative Ivory Torrey Thigpen, and Senator Vernon Stephens have been incredibly supportive – we look forward to continuing this work!
Join Us! Welcome the new session by joining CVSC and our partners at a number of events this month:
Legislative Kick-Off Reception
Date: January 24, 2023 | Time: 5:30-8:00pm
Location: Bourbon (1214 Main St, Columbia)
Attend our Legislative Kick-Off Reception as we welcome our team, partners, voters, and legislators back to the State House for another year of protecting the South Carolina we love. Register.
Conservation Coalition Senate Briefing
Date: January 25, 2023 | Time: 10:00 am
Location: Gressette Building, Room 105
Join the SC Conservation Coalition for the 2023 Senate Briefing: Conversations with Conservationists, hosted by Senator Chip Campsen and Senator Thomas McElveen, as they discuss environmental and conservation issues critical to our state this legislative year. Register.
We hope you can join us! Please contact me via email with any questions: [email protected].
The Legislative Hotlist is a weekly update from our Government Relations Director, Meagan Diedolf. Sign up for emails to get the Hotlist delivered directly to your inbox!