Alumni From Denmark Tech Sue State of South Carolina, But is it Too Late?

Graduates and supporters of Denmark Technical College are suing the State of South Carolina, alleging that years of underfunding from the state and surrounding counties have brought the two-year school to the brink of closure. 

The Times & Democrat reports on the lawsuit, filed last week against the state and S.C. Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education. Plaintiffs say that plans to close the school and convert it to a career training center will cost the county jobs, and prospective students a much-needed pathway to educational training and career preparation. 

“According to the most recent data available, the State funds just 27.9% of the amount needed to support the educational and general (“E&G”) operating needs of South Carolina’s technical colleges. Even at such a low percentage, the State has historically allocated even less funds to DTC,” the complaint claims.
In addition, the complaint claims that while other local governments help fund the technical colleges in their areas, Denmark Tech gets virtually no funding from Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties.
For instance, DTC has received $38,100 from the counties it serves over the past five years. Greenville Technical College got $59 million during the same period.

Lawmakers and education officials in South Carolina have been discussing plans to change DTC’s mission for several years, with conversations growing earlier this year. A lawsuit may have merit to present that the state has unfairly targeted the school based upon enrollment trends, particularly in comparison to other tech schools. 

Could legislators by way of budget making move ahead with shutting down the school, notwithstanding a stay from a Bamberg County judge where the suit was filed? Would lawmakers have legal standing to suggest economic reasons for shutting down a school, which any public higher education system has the prerogative to do? 

But most importantly, can DTC alumni and supporters sustain their public support of the school for long enough to make the issue of keeping the school open a political albatross for lawmakers? And are they prepared to come to a negotiating table with alternatives about what Denmark Tech can be if enrollment and revenue make terms for surviving in its current state financially impossible? 

Maryland HBCU stakeholders are in year 13 of their federal lawsuit against the state for inequitable treatment of its four public HBCUs, and remain in negotiations more than six years after a federal judge rendered an initial decision in the case. Litigation is a powerful tool in forcing HBCU equity in public higher education, but as is the case with most things, timing is everything. 

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