Now that the fight over the $700 million in stimulus money is over and the funds are headed to South Carolina, State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex says he senses a boost in the morale of persons involved in school districts throughout the state.”The certainty that its coming has allowed them to approve budgets with that stabilization money in there. It has done what we said it would do. it has saved jobs, it has allowed programs to be put back in place that were going to be cut, so it’s having a positive effect.”
Prior to the State Supreme Court decision regarding the stimulus funds, Rex said without the stimulus dollars 2600 jobs in the public school system would be lost, and about 1500 of those would be classroom teachers.
Rex says school districts have had to adjust their plans after earlier cuts in state appropriations. Rex says the adjustments could not have been made smoothly without the cooperation of the General Assembly. “We got the legislature to agree to give school districts unprecedented flexibility in terms of how they could use the reduced resources they were getting and that has helped. the mental shift had already taken place that we were going to have to do some things differently and that we were going to have to do the important things with less money.”
In a recent report published in “Education Week,” South Carolina showed a 13 percent increase in the high school graduation rate in the 10 year period of 1996 to 2006, which is one of the greatest improvement rates in the U.S. South Carolina ranks 37th in the country in high school graduation rate. Last year’s rate of 66 percent was slightly below the national average of 69 percent. Rex says despite the downturn in the economy and budget cuts, the state cannot afford to take a step back and the goals for public education in the state remain ambitious.
“We’re still pushing public school choice. There are some magnet school ideas and other things that have been put on the back shelf until the economy improves because we just don’t see the resources. We’re also hoping, of course, there is going to be reform on how we fund schools. If the economy comes back and we also get these reforms in place, I think we’re going to see another spurt of improvement and innovation hopefully within the next few years.”