A financially-struggling state school for at-risk youth which has operated for more than 200 years in McCormick will remain open for at least one more.
The budget deal reached last week between a committee of South Carolina House and Senate members ultimately would continue funding the John de la Howe School, but requires the school evaluate some of its operations. However, the language was still a relief to the school’s supporters because the House version of the budget would have shut down the school and turned over its operations to Clemson for possible agriculture education.
“I’m hoping that maybe this will soothe some of these itches that (House budget leaders) have,” State Rep. Anne Parks, D-Greenwood, said. Senators had been hesitant to close the school entirely, although some also expressed concern about the school’s $5.8 million operating budget for only three dozen or so students. The state Department of Education also pulled John de la Howe’s accreditation last year and its resident students now attend courses at nearby McCormick County School District.
John de la Howe was founded as an orphanage in 1797 from money willed by its namesake. It was taken over by the state in the early 20th century and has expanded over the past three decades to house students who have been expelled from traditional schools due to behavioral issues. It also operates a “wilderness camp” which teaches agricultural skills.
The final budget orders the school’s board to evaluate what it needs in land and funding to operate its agriculture education program along the lines of the original will. The board must submit its evaluation to lawmakers by December 1.
Members of the school’s board have previously accused legislators of engineering the school’s decline by limiting its budget and allowing negative headlines to scare away parents. “I have witnessed a pattern and practice of lies by representatives and officials to discredit and dismantle the agency,” board member Barbara Devinney told a House oversight panel in March.