Friday’s editorial takes the state to task for its bewildering stance on accepting federal education assistance:
After months of dogged statements from the governor’s office and state Education Department about unwanted federal intrusions and bailouts, Monday’s missed deadline to apply for teacher funding was little surprise.
Instead of paying to hire teachers in South Carolina, the $143 million that had been set aside for us will be split by 49 other states. Why? In large part because we didn’t bother to ask for the money. To be fair, we also did not meet the requirements because state funding of higher education dropped last year, but that hurdle was not insurmountable. Texas had similar trouble meeting requirements, but its congressional delegation found a solution that restored the state’s $830 million. South Carolina’s congressmen, on the other hand, did little to alleviate the situation. Sen. Jim DeMint stands opposed to what he terms federal bailouts, and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s spokesman said he “defers to the wishes of the state.” Those wishes of the state are the real issue.
Even had we been eligible for the money from the beginning, State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais declared proudly that he would not have applied for it. He has taken the same approach on Race to the Top grants, which will fund innovation in education across the U.S. Gov. Nikki Haley has been solidly behind Zais, saying she won’t sign any application for Race to the Top grants. When it comes to the teacher funding, Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, spurned the money as unnecessary. “The solution to our education challenges is not a federal bailout,” he said.
We agree. Federal money won’t fix every problem in our education system. But that’s hardly the point. Funding will be a key component in any serious overhaul or change. And while we hesitate to compare our state’s schools to a sinking ship, we’ll take the analogy Haley’s office provided and run with it. The hole in our boat may not be fixed by a bailout, but it would certainly make it easier to reach the hole and patch it up. To turn down that proffered help – help that could have covered the salaries of 3,000 S.C. teachers – seems stubborn, not principled.
We’re also confused by what seem to be the conflicting messages issued by our state. We could understand – if not agree with – those who say they want no interference at all from the federal government and turn down all funding offers. But instead our state has opted to take federal money sometimes, but not others, with little explanation as to why. For example, in late June the state faced the looming loss of $111 million in federal special education funds. There was no outcry from Zais about government intrusion or strings attached. On the contrary, he led an effort to quickly bring the state back into compliance to ensure that the funds would be restored. Similarly, we’re happy enough to take federal money to help subsidize school lunches and Medicaid costs for school injuries.
That doesn’t mean we like taking federal money. In fact, state leaders often treat it as a distasteful reality that wouldn’t exist in a perfect world, an unpleasant Brussels sprout that we must hold our nose and suffer through if we want to get to our dessert. This peculiar, “we’ll take your money sometimes but we won’t really like it” approach shows a deep antagonism toward the federal government. It’s a frankly disturbing trend in a relationship that should be based more on mutual respect and shared goals than on competing dogmas. And it’s not as though it’s saving us any money. In fact, all of us who pay federal taxes will still be paying for this $143 million in teacher salaries, but it will now be funding teachers in other states rather than in ours.
Could we have used the money? Horry County Schools Superintendent Cindy Elsberry said on Thursday that there are a number of outstanding needs in the school district, but the first that came to her mind was reading instruction.
“One pressing need is to provide literacy intervention teachers in our schools,” she said. “We have a powerful literacy initiative and we want to support it.”
We’d like to support the literacy initiative as well, and this funding, federal even though it may be, would have been a good place to start.