Last month, eighth grader Ty’Sheoma Bethea was an honored guest of President Obama when he made his address to a joint session of Congress. Bethea had written a letter to Gov. Mark Sanford (R) asking him to repair her school, JV Martin Jr High School in Dillon, SC, which was falling apart. “I felt that our school was in bad condition,” she said. “After the stimulus bill was passed I hoped we could get some of the money to rebuild the school.”
However, Sanford continues to stand in the way of Bethea’s hopes. Yesterday, in what Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) deemed “100 percent political posturing,” Sanford announced he would seek to pay down the state’s debt by redirecting $700 million of the state’s stimulus money meant for school funding and public safety:
— 81.8% must be used to backfill education funding to maintain current funding levels and prevent school districts from laying off teachers and increasing class sizes. Any money that remains can be used for school modernization or construction.
— 18.2% is discretionary funds provided to the governor which can be used for “public safety or other government services.”
John Cooley, deputy superintendent for finance and operations at the South Carolina Department of Education, explained that the stimulus funds would help fill a 15 percent budget cut already inflicted on the school system. Without those funds, Cooley estimated that up 7,500 teachers (15 percent of the state’s 50,000 teachers) could be negatively impacted. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’ve reduced 7,500 teachers” or that all 7,500 will lose their jobs.
Regardless, Cooley warned that Sanford’s cuts will make an already dire situation much worse:
It’s going to create a significant problem for us if that was to happen. I know that our general assembly — the House of Representatives completed their work on the appropriation bill for 2010 and they have used that money and appropriated it to education to help fill in the cuts that we’ve taken. If those funds are not permitted to be used that way, it will create a significant problem for the education budget in South Carolina.
Ironically, Sanford cited his “duty” to “future generations of South Carolinians” in explaining his slashing of funding for the state’s school system, in a letter to the legislature. And in a press conference yesterday, he insisted he was acting with young people’s best interests at heart:
Of course we’d like to spend unlimited amounts of money on education or for that matter healthcare or law enforcement. but you have to do it within the confines of that which is sustainable. So the idea of digging a $1.2 billion hole whose costs ultimately will be born by school-aged kids to me is not in their best interest.
As Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said yesterday, “Paying off the debt does nothing for the schoolteacher who is losing a job or the probation officer who is being laid off.” Even with news yesterday that South Carolina now has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, at 10.4 percent — and the fastest growing rate anywhere — Sanford is apparently willing to offer his citizens nothing but his prayers.
When asked whether his decision was influenced by his presidential ambitions, Sanford replied, “I’ve got a 15-year pattern of doing exactly this kind of thing.” Steve Benen quipped, “Oddly enough, he meant that as a defense.”
,Yglesias highlights Sanford’s comparison yesterday between Obama and Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe and points out that not only is the comparison “really offensive,” it’s also appallingly ignorant. “There’s no inflation right now in the United States. None whatsoever.” Which is actually problematic, Yglesias writes. “Sanford’s just out to sea on this.”
,Pete Pillow, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, echoed that the state’s schools would be “in a world of hurt” if Sanford’s plans go through:
But this extra $700 million — there’s so many needs in so many areas. And of course the general assembly is building a budget for next year using stimulus money. And golly, if that doesn’t happen then we’re in a real world of hurt because of all the cuts that are going on. And it isn’t going to get any better. It’s not like the economy’s going to turn around in the next year. Not in this state anyway.