State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex says the clock is ticketing as the state’s public school system stands and waits as the battle over the stimulus dollars melodrama plays itself out in the court system. Rex says it’s important that a quick ruling on the issue is made because July first is the deadline for South Carolina to apply for the stimulus dollars.Governor Mark Sanford has petitioned for the suit involving the South Carolina Association of School Administrators be moved from the State Supreme Court to federal court. Rex surmises that the Governor has many reasons for prolonging the case, but he adds as the case drags on it is the state public school system that is ultimately hurt. Rex says he’s thinking of asking the U.S. Department of Education for an extension on the deadline for applying for the funds.
“I don’t know of any precedent for what we’re talking about here. We probably would request it until a conclusion is reached by the courts. That’s what we would ask for. They may say for a limited period of time. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope we don’t have to ask for that extension.”
Rex says South Carolina taxpayers are going to have to pay back the $350 million in stimulus money, so the funds should be spent in South Carolina.
Rex says the state public school system benefits from several federal grants not tied to the stimulus funds, however the amount of funds allotted to South Carolina from those grants are tied to performance. Rex says public school students have made significant strides in test score improvement over the past few years and continued improvement would be jeopardized if the stimulus funds are not allotted to the state. Rex says there is time, but he says the time for discussing a compromise with the U.S. Department of Education in tying grant awards to performance may soon be warranted.
“it’s okay to have high expectations for school districts, teachers, and students. But you also have to have a set of expectations from the legislature and the other elected leaders of this state to provide the necessary resources for school districts to have a reasonable opportunity to meet those expectations. We’re not there yet, but if we see the resource base continue to dwindle it’s likely we would have to make some adjustments either in terms of timelines or in terms of expectations for improvement.”
If the stimulus funds do not come to the state, Rex says the continued progress in the area of manageable student-teacher ratios in the classroom would cease as more teachers lose their jobs. ” We’d lose about 2600 jobs in our school system and about 1500 of those would be classroom teachers. The difference appears to be between having the stimulus dollars included or not having them which would mean a swing of about 700 jobs about 500 of those would be classroom teachers. The impact of that would be significant.