South Carolina fails to land federal money for low-income students to take Advanced Placement tests
South Carolina was among a handful of states last week to be left out of a more than $21.5 million federal grant program that covers testing fees for low-income students, but it wasn’t because the state failed to apply for the money.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais consistently has taken the position that schools need less federal involvement, and he’s been criticized this past school year for not trying to secure two one-time federal grants. Zais has said the state wasn’t eligible for those, and he wouldn’t have sought them out even if it were.
Zais’ ideology wasn’t a factor in this latest grant distribution. The state did apply for this money, which went to 43 states to cover fees charged to low-income students for taking Advanced Placement tests. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release the funds would help eliminate financial roadblocks for students.
South Carolina submitted an application asking for funds to pay for International Baccalaureate tests rather than AP exams because it already provides schools money for AP tests and federal grants can’t supplant state money. Both exams help students earn college credit for high school courses.
State education officials hadn’t received any information from the U.S. Department of Education on why its grant application wasn’t approved, said Jay W. Ragley, the state education department’s director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.
The U.S. Department of Education’s announcement on the grant money didn’t specify why certain states received it, either.
Zais doesn’t have any say over the vast majority of federal money that goes to the state because it comes by formula, rather than discretionary grants. That’s distributed to districts as required by law, Ragley said.
He said Zais has been working hard and “without any assistance from any of the taxpayer-funded school lobbying groups in Columbia” to restore $36 million in federal special education funding cut from the state’s budget because of errors made before he became superintendent. Zais has filed motions in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but no decision on those has been made.
Both the South Carolina School Boards Association and the South Carolina Association of School Administrators have been critical of Zais’ position on the one-time federal grants.
Scott Price, attorney for the state School Boards Association, said Zais never asked the association for help on the special education funding issue.
Molly Spearman, executive director of the state Association of School Administrators, said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been working hard to resolve this issue at the request of the association’s membership.
“If Mr. Ragley and Dr. Zais spent less time blaming and bashing the hardworking school leaders in S.C. and more time working together, students and schools would all be better off,” Spearman said. “SCASA is made up mostly of school principals who want to be sure their students get their fair share of federal dollars, especially in special education.”
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.