In a letter issued yesterday, state Supt. of Education Mick Zais formally refused $149 million in funds allotted specifically for South Carolina, which will now be added to the funds distributed to the remaining 49 states, as well as Dist. of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
And why is that? Because the federal government has no role in our state’s schools, Zais says in this latest of funding refusals.
The U.S. Dept. of Education sent multiple reminders of application for the “Edu Jobs” program, which was approved by congress last September, but never received response from Zais’ office.
According to the Post & Courier, Ann Whalen recently made a last contact with Zais reminding him of an upcoming deadline. “We hope that teachers and students in South Carolina will be able to benefit from these funds,” the USDE Deputy Director wrote on August 5.
The reminder was bitterly received, however. In a written reply submitted yesterday, Zais told Whalen “I regret that your agency wasted taxpayers’ resources to inform the state again about something it and USDE already knew.
“Instead, your letter appears as another attempt to inject Washington politics into South Carolina’s affairs.”
Edu Jobs was created to help states prevent teacher layoffs, hire new staff and award overdue pay raises.
The absence of this particular funding, which could have paid the salaries of over 3,000 public school employees in South Carolina, could result in layoffs. Public school teachers in the state have not had any pay increase in over three years, as well.
The effect on school employment in the state is a top complaint of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.
“This is about jobs,” says Molly Spearman, executive director of SCASA, who says the employment creation and preservation the funding would have provided would also have benefited the state in other ways, too. “(Edu Jobs) would go to people who would be working in South Carolina – buying groceries, paying taxes.
“It was a way to jumpstart our economy,” she offers.
SCASA anticipated these funding problems after Zais’ election last year, though. School districts are now using “already dwindling” reserve funds to preserve jobs, Spearman says.
The resultant employment-stifling leaves South Carolina in jeopardy of losing qualified educators, too. Citing one recent example of 65 applicants for a single 1st grade teacher’s job as an example, Spearman believes many South Carolinians who just graduated with degrees in education will be forced to move out of state in search of employment. Current teachers facing unemployment risks due to lack of funding will have to do the same, too.
“This whole ideology is disturbing,” Spearman says.
The funding rejection is also supported by Gov. Haley, whose spokesman Rob Godfrey told the Post & Courier “the solution to our education challenges is not a federal bailout.”
Refusal of participation in Edu Jobs is just the latest funding rejection by Zais. Earlier this year, he withdrew the state from federal “Race to the Top” grant applications, as well, and for the same reasons.
The grant “expands the federal role in education by offering pieces of silver in exchange for strings attached to Washington,” Zais stated in a May 25 press release. “Schools need less, not more, federal intrusion to increase student achievement.”
SCDE participated in “Race to the Top” in the 2009 and 2010. Grants ranging from $10 million to $50 million were to be awarded to nine qualifying states in 2011.
South Carolina was of guaranteed status to receive “Race to the Top” funding this year, Spearman says.
SCDE annual budgets have been reduced by $75 million since the 2006-07 fiscal year following passage of Act 388, which removed property taxes as a source for school funding in exchange for sales taxes. Budgets for particular programs such as students’ meals and health services have been cut in half.
Last year, Zais took the GOP nomination for the office in June’s primary with 54.2 percent of the vote, and won the November general election with 51.3 percent.