Rex Says Federal Funds will be Available in Time to Help Students Next School Year

June 4, 2009

COLUMBIA, SC – June 4, 2009 – State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said that today’s South Carolina Supreme Court ruling paves the way for federal stabilization funds to be drawn down quickly and sent to local school districts in time to help students next year.

What I’m hearing today is a big sigh of relief from local school districts, Rex said.  This ruling – and the governor’s pledge not to appeal it – gives them assurances that federal help is coming. Now they can move ahead and approve budgets that save teaching positions that were going to be cut.  They can save effective programs that were on life support.

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.  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.

The five-member high court determined that Gov. Mark Sanford must follow the wishes of the General Assembly, which recently approved a budget using federal stabilization funds, and directed the governor to apply for them.  Sanford, who had refused to apply for the money, said he would not appeal the court’s ruling that he do so.

Rex said he had been assured by the U.S. Department of Education that the federal agency would expedite South Carolina’s request for $350 million in stabilization funds, $184 million of which would go to local schools.  The rest of the funds would go to higher education and law enforcement agencies.

The USDE says that South Carolina’s application could be approved in as little as 10 days, Rex said.  We might end up being the last state approved, but at least our local districts won’t have to face the worst-case scenarios that were looming for them on July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

Rex has already completed and signed South Carolina’s application, which now requires only Sanford’s signature.

At stake in the court battle was $700 million in federal stabilization funds — $350 million the first year – that Sanford had refused to draw down unless the General Assembly agreed to devote an equivalent amount of money to reducing state debt.  The White House Office of Management and Budget had twice told Sanford that such a move would violate the intent of the federal stimulus law.

South Carolina schools have been hit with nearly $400 million in cuts this year, and absorbing those midyear reductions has left many districts with few alternatives except to consider cuts to their most important assets – their classroom teaching positions.  Eighty to 90 percent of a typical school district’s budget is salaries, with most of those salaries going to classroom teachers.

Many school districts across South Carolina have placed their budgets on hold because of uncertainty over how many positions they would have to cut next year.  A South Carolina Department of Education survey of school districts indicated that about 2,600 jobs, including 1,500 classroom teaching positions, would be eliminated next year unless the state receives the stabilization funds.  With those funds available, about 700 jobs would be saved, including 500 teaching positions.

The state-funded 2009-10 Base Student Cost – the fundamental building block for local school district budgets – would have been $2,687 per student had it been fully funded.  If Sanford had prevailed in court, next year’s BSC would have been $2,034 per student.  Once the federal stabilization dollars are applied, next year’s BSC would be $2,334.