South Carolina education advocates begged the state's political leaders Monday to do whatever is necessary to take advantage of hundreds of millions in federal money available for the state's students.
The South Carolina School Boards Association and South Carolina Association of School Administrators say they've done everything they can do to access the money, but that's not going to be possible without the involvement and consent of others, including the governor, superintendent of education, or federal legislative delegation. They say the state deserves its share of the tax dollars it pays, and they're disappointed in the leadership they're seeing.
"I'm very concerned, and I think that concern is growing across the state as we're in this to improve education," said Molly Spearman, executive director of the administrators association. "We're willing to support the state superintendent, but we really feel like some very bad decisions are being made without input from folks on the ground who are working in these districts."
At stake are three pots of federal money, perhaps the most significant of which is the Education Jobs Fund. It was created with federal stimulus money to help prevent teacher layoffs because of funding cuts. Every other state in the country has received its share of the money, and $144 million remains for South Carolina. The state's congressional delegation must take action before Sept. 30 or that money no longer will be available.
The other two funds the state could access are part of the federal Race to the Top competition. The state could receive between $10 million and $50 million if it were to reapply for the funding, and it also could vie for some of $500 million available as part of the next round of competition, dubbed the Early Learning Challenge.
The state superintendent has been clear since he was a candidate for office that he did not support the Race to the Top competition because it provided one-time money that sometimes requires recurring expenditures, said Jay W. Ragley, the department's deputy superintendent for legislative and public affairs. He feels the same way about the Education Jobs Fund, which the state didn't qualify for because of its failure to meet higher-education funding requirements. It's also one-time money for recurring expenses, which isn't a wise budgeting practice, he said.
"What message is the education establishment sending to students by demanding Dr. Zais change his position regarding Race to the Top?" Ragley said. "It's acceptable to break your word?"
The state Board of Education also has asked Zais to reconsider his position on the Race to the Top funds.
"The governor supports Dr. Zais' leadership on the issue and thinks it's bad policy to spend one-time federal dollars on recurring expenses," said Rob Godfrey, spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley.