COLUMBIA — More teachers will have jobs and children will have better access to early childhood classes, after-school programs and effective literacy interventions after the state Supreme Court said Thursday that Gov. Mark Sanford must accept federal stimulus funds.
Sanford lost a months-long battle when the high court forced him to draw down $700 million in stimulus money, most of which will go toward South Carolina public schools.
To Sanford, the fight was about democracy and crucial checks and balances in government. But to Lowcountry educators, the protracted battle put the state's most vulnerable in a political fix.
Charleston County schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley said the stimulus funds won't solve the district's budget woes, but the cash does help officials make strategic investments.
"If we believe and invest in this generation of Charleston County students, they will pay us back tenfold," she said. "Let us put our students front and center as we move forward and pass a budget that will zero in on their needs, and those of the teachers who will stand before them."
The recession has left schools struggling after several rounds of budget cuts, and state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said the stimulus cash will provide relief. The $700 million will be split between the next two years, including $184 million that will be divided among the state's 85 district in the coming school year. Colleges and universities will receive $105 million this year, and $57 million is designated for law enforcement programs.
"Class sizes were really going to go up next year as a result of these cuts, and many programs were on the chopping block for big reductions: summer school, after-school programs, adult education, athletics, you name it," Rex said. "Courses were being canceled right and left. Students were going to feel a direct impact, and now schools may be able to avoid some of that."
Sanford said he will apply for the money Monday. The state's $5.7 billion budget goes into effect July 1.
In all, the state will receive $2.8 billion in stimulus funds for government agencies out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama in February. South Carolina's share could grow to $8 billion when tax breaks and grants are figured in. The $700 million was the only disputed portion.
The court's decision reaffirmed that the state only has one branch of government — the Legislature, Sanford said. He fears the decision will have implications on future governors.
For now, though, officials in Dorchester and Berkeley schools are feeling relief.
Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye gave kudos to legislators who fought Sanford in his opposition to the money. Pye said it was critical to receive the money following massive rounds of budget cuts in the last year.
Like elsewhere, Berkeley schools will juggle unpaid leave for workers, staff reductions through attrition and program cuts as they draft the final version of their budget.
"The children of South Carolina have won over the political posturing," Berkeley County schools Finance Director Brantley Thomas said.
Breakdown of the federal money, state budget spending changes and the net effect of the stimulus money and budget on agencies.Read the state Supreme Court rulingRead Gov. Sanford's statement on the rulingStatement from SC Education Superintendent Jim RexStatement from the South Carolina Association of School AdministratorsStatement from Representative and gubernatorial candidate Nikki HaleyStatement from State Senate Democratic Leader John C. Land, III, D-ManningStatement from State Senate Majority Leader Harvey PeelerStatement from Senator Hugh K. LeathermanStatement from House Speaker Bobby HarrellStatement by U.S. Sen. Lindsey GrahamStatement from Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnellStatement from U.S. Congressman Gresham Barrett, Republican gubernatorial candidateStatement from Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe PyeStatement from Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley