Some school districts across South Carolina are fuming about $144 million in federal bailout money that will likely end up going to other states after South Carolina officials refused to pursue it.
The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to State Education Superintendent Mick Zais last week, warning him that South Carolina would lose out on the stimulus money if it did not apply by Monday. However, Zais tersely replied Tuesday that even if it wanted the money, South Carolina was not eligible for it.
“The federal program… requires the state to spend a certain amount on K-12 and on public institutions of higher education,” SC Department of Education spokesman Jay Ragley said, “In that legislation, the state did not meet the test for spending on higher education.”
However, the South Carolina School Boards Association said there were steps the state could have taken, such as transferring K-12 funding over to colleges. Spokesperson Debbie Elmore said the lobbying organization had received numerous calls since news broke of the letters this week.
“It’s very unfortunate,” she said, “Why should it go to benefit other states? When we need to be talking about saving and keeping jobs in our state, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, for us to turn down money that would help people to keep jobs is just astounding.”
South Carolina is the only state that will not receive a share of the $10 billion in stimulus funds Congress repurposed last year. The money, called the “Education Jobs Fund” was meant to help prevent teacher layoffs over the next two years. However, South Carolina did not qualify because it cut too much for colleges in 2010.
Ragley said even if South Carolina had been eligible for the funding, Zais would not have pursued it. “It’s an issue about more debt that the children and grandchildren South Carolina will have to inherit,” he said, “Because this money was not paid for with taxes. This was deficit spending.”
Zais also angered education officials and Democrats by not pursuing federal “Race to the Top” funds earlier this year. “Everybody knows our school system in this state is underfunded,” Rep. Jim Clyburn told reporters earlier this week, “What is this about?”
In his response, Zais said the money would be better served in paying off the federal debt, “While we are attending to the education needs of our students today, their future is not brightened by saddling them with an outrageous credit card bill that awaits them at graduation, courtesy of the federal government.”