Will S.C. re-apply for massive education grant?
By Bill Davis, senior editorAPRIL 2, 2010 – Just what’s going on at the state Department of Education?
A few weeks ago, state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex announced the good news that South Carolina’s bid for a slice of a multi-billion dollar federal grant competition had advanced from the round of 42 to the Sweet 16.
Then this week, he announced South Carolina’s bid had fallen short for the federal Race to the Top grant contest, which was intended to bolster and finance aggressive and forward-thinking ways to further improve public K-12 education in failing sectors.
But even in the bad news there was a silver lining. While not quite the Cinderella story he’d hoped for, the state’s application, which sought $300 million, came in 6th overall -- a scant 4 percentage points out of second place.
The two winning states, Tennessee and Delaware, are reportedly set to receive close to a half-billion dollars and $100 million respectively.
But then this week Rex, who is also running for governor, repeatedly said he was still considering whether the S.C. Department of Education should apply for the second round of the grant program, which still has close to $3.5 billion in the kitty.
Bbbb … what?
Public education has taken bigger cuts to its portion of the 2010-11 fiscal year General Fund budget than it has in years. Wouldn’t Race to the Top money, any money, be welcome about right now? Especially when the 2011-12 state budget process has been projected to be a bloodbath, according to several sources?
“I would hope that we reapply; I’ve sent a letter over expressing my support,” said Sen. John Courson, the chair of the Education Committee. “I wouldn’t want to comment on why [Rex] wouldn’t, because I don’t have all the information, like if he had a conversation with the White House or the (federal) Department of Education.”
Factors impacting decision
Rex, reached Thursday fresh from his weekly superintendent’s meeting, said there were several factors that affect his decision of whether to go forward with a second-round application.
First, he said, was money. The state’s top potential grant would be capped at $175 million over four years, instead of the original $300 million. And, while he admitted that was a significant amount of money, Rex said he wasn’t sure if there would enough people still on staff to pull off the programs the application would try and fund.
“We could see thousands laid-off around the state this year,” said Rex, of the effect of public K-12 budget cuts on the state and local levels. “I just don’t know if we will have the capacity, personnel-wise, to do what we want to do with the money.”
“The South Carolina House-approved budget would amount to about an $800million cut over what K-12 public schools had two years ago,” said S.C. Department of Education communications director Jim Foster. “That would mean a 25-percent reduction to local school districts, but our agency's cut would be far worse. More like a 45-percent cut.”
Will there be enough staff?
That could be a deciding factor. Education Week, an education watchdog periodical, followed the grants competition and analyzed that stakeholder participation was key in Tennessee and Delaware’s successful bids.
If there are fewer stakeholders, thanks to budget cuts, that could further depress South Carolina’s chances.
The second factor, according to Rex was timing. The first application was a several-month effort, and the application weighed in at over 1,250 pages. It was the result of thousands of hours on manpower. But the second-round has been deadlined for a fast-approaching June 1.
Rex said the state Department of Education would likely not send in the same application, especially since the potential funding would be cut by nearly 40 percent.
Foster said this week that South Carolina’s scores may have been hurt by a lone judge who gave the state lower, and he argued disconnected, marks.
Similar complaints have surfaced from other states that applied. But, Education Week conducted a mathematical experiment that eliminated the “outliers” -- judges at the top and the bottom of grading applications -- and found that the two states who won the first round would have been unchanged.
Crystal ball: Of course, the department is going to reapply. “It’s not like I’m glad to say I got to play in the Super Bowl,” said Jim Rex. “I want to win it.” But budget cuts will hurt the state’s chances, especially since they could cost school districts thousands of employees statewide, and the agency somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 staffers, according to Foster.
The House and the Senate will be on furlough next week. In related news:
- Health care. The S.C. Chamber of Commerce is holding a town hall-style event, Washington Night in South Carolina, to help explain the impact of the new federal health care reform. It will be held Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Marriott Columbia, 1200 Hampton St. The Chamber will also be holding three separate, one-day symposia to cover the new law from several angles. The symposia will be in Columbia April 20, Greenville, April 22, and Charleston, April 28.
- Education care. Several education-friendly organizations -- SCSBA, SCASA, PSTA, SCEA, and others -- are hosting a protest and march 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Capitol to support public education and decry proposed state K-12 education cuts .
About halfway there
With both chambers on furlough, next week essentially marks halftime. The Senate soon will be busy with the budget early on, but will the second half feature a flurry of other bills? No. It’s an election year in the House and those guys (and ladies) will shift their attention to getting reelected. One of the “big” bills to get a push in the Senate -- allowing churches and charities to hold “raffles,” code word for poker nights. Snooze alarm hit.
Cigarette tax hike on the table
The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday night that would increase the state’s per-pack cigarette tax from 7 to 57 cents per pack. The $130 million the bill would generate would go largely for Medicaid programs. The bill will now be sent back to the House, which last year approved the 50-cent increase. But the House included only a 30-cent increase in its recently-passed 2010-11 budget, which the Senate soon will take up. Regardless, the measure for the 50-cent increase now is headed back to the House for approval or to go to a conference committee. Gov. Mark Sanford has vowed to veto the bill if an offsetting tax cut is not included in the budget, making the tax increase revenue neutral. Same song. Different day. (NOTE: the information in italics is updated from our first edition.)
The S.C. Democratic Party has unveiled a cheeky Web site for those wanting to track the days “since a South Carolina Republican embarrassed the state.” The one-page site is chock full of funny tidbits, like the number of days since Gov. Mark Sanford “hiked” the Appalachian Trail (284), or the number of days since an assistant attorney general was caught in a cemetery with a stripper, Viagra and sex toys (155), and so on. As soon as the Democrats do something (hell, anything), the GOP needs to respond.
With all of the various candidates now officially running for the state’s constitutional offices, we thought it might be helpful to provide you with a list of their Web sites – at least the ones with Web sites:
Census brings R&R: revenue and representation
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherAPRIL 2, 2010 – Filling out the Census isn’t a sin. It isn’t a Democratic or Republican thing. It’s just the law, something required in the U.S. Constitution by the founders of the country to ensure equal representation.
But because even a piece of toast can become partisanized these days, some from the left and others from the right are trying to get Americans to boycott the Census or fill out only a part of it.
People, this is silly. Don’t believe anything you hear that suggests there’s any evil in filling out the Census. Its 10 questions are easy and non-intrusive. Completing the mail-in form only takes about five minutes.
But if South Carolinians don’t do a better job in filling out the Census, the state could suffer. It’s that plain and simple.
The Census, explains Budget and Control Board Research Director Bobby Bowers, is all about R&R – not rest and relaxation, but about revenue and representation.
On the revenue side, many federal programs rely on Census-based formulas to distribute tax dollars for everything from money for schools and health care to highway construction and vocational rehabilitation.
It is not an insignificant amount. If South Carolina’s people are undercounted – as about 48,335 people were projected to have been missed in 2000 – then the state will not receive $580 million to $1 billion over the next 10 years, said Bowers, the legislative-appointed state liaison with the Census Bureau. If we have the 49th lowest participation rate in the country, as we did in 2000, federal tax money already paid by South Carolinians will just go somewhere else.
“That’s a lot of money,” Bowers said. “Think of what this state could do with an extra billion dollars these days. It’s critical for this state, particularly with the downturn in the economy, to be able to get as much from the federal government that is going to be distributed anyway.”
And we don’t want to miss out on that money due to some people failing to act because of something they hear from a misinformed or misleading talking head with an agenda who is on TV spreading calumny.
Filling out the Census also could mean more representation in Congress. It’s been widely reported that if South Carolinians are more accurately counted, there’s a chance the state will get a seventh congressional district.
Between 2000 and 2009, South Carolina was the nation’s 10th fastest growing state. By July 2009, the state had about 4.6 million people, according to Census estimates. If this year’s Census finds around 4.8 million people here, we could be on the borderline to get another district, based on Statehouse Report projections.
This year, the Census made a special effort to educate South Carolinians about the importance of filling out the Census form. There have been ads, town meetings and more.
Former Rock Hill newspaper editor Terry Plumb, who has been working for the Census to spread the word, explained that it costs just 42 cents for someone to return the Census in the mail. But if the Census Bureau has to send an employee to someone’s home—and they would try up to six times to try to find them to answer the form’s 10 questions – then the average cost rises to $57 for a completed form. (The reason is the time, training and background checks for Census employees.)
In the coming months, as many as 12,800 part-time Census specialists may be hired to ensure that the state has an accurate a count as possible.
Do your part today by filling out the form. By law, the information remains confidential. Completing the Census could save money now – and reap bigger rewards for the state in many ways over the next 10 years.
Force Protection, Inc.The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring SC Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week, we turn your attention to Force Protection, Inc. Since its founding in 1996 in Charleston, S.C., Force Protection has emerged as a leading manufacturer of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that are deployed in support of armed forces and security personnel serving in theaters of operation around the globe. With a mission of bringing our heroes home safely, Force Protection is continually researching, developing and delivering leading-edge, life-saving solutions designed to counter roadside bomb threats, including IEDs and EFPs. For the complete profile, visit www.forceprotection.net.
No middle ground for gifted students
By Win Gasperson
Special to Statehouse Report
APRIL 2, 2010 -- My daughter started her education at a Montessori school. In that environment, she was able to work at her own pace and dig as deep into a topic or subject as she wanted. In 4th grade, we moved her to a traditional school and were assured that she would be challenged academically.
This was not the case and troubling stories of my daughter’s school experience started to surface. She would raise her hand to answer a question and the teachers would respond with:”Does anyone besides Grace Anne know the answer?” We have learned that my daughter’s vocabulary is so far beyond her grade level that we, her family, have had to come up with a more challenging vocabulary to help her actually expand her base in width and depth. When a teacher does find something that our child does not know, there is a sort of celebration from that teacher. This not to say our daughter is perfect. She deals with the same issues as other 11-year olds. Sadly, our daughter compares her current school curriculum in what is considered a very good school to only being allowed to swim in the shallow end of the pool.
Grace Anne and 4,063 other children in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades in the Charleston tri-county area, is state-identified as gifted and talented students. Gifted students are those who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields. They also need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. Gifted and talented students want to learn and understand, not just memorize and iterate, and have unique ways of learning. Unfortunately in the Lowcountry, there are limited opportunities and resources for these students to obtain the academic rigor they require. What is available here is consistent nationally—out of every $100 dollars of federal funding for education, 2 cents is spent on gifted and talented education.
|"If we want our gifted and talented students to be challenged and be the state’s leaders of tomorrow, we need to ensure public charter school students receive funding equivalent with the other public school students in the districts in which they live—no more, no less." |
Fortunately, local public school students like my daughter will soon have the opportunity to attend a school that is specifically designed for their unique educational, social and emotional needs. In August 2010, Palmetto Scholars Academy (PSA) will open at the Navy Yard at Noisette in North Charleston as the first public charter school for gifted and talented students in South Carolina and only the seventh of its kind in the nation. PSA is a school in the South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD) and will serve a diverse group of children from Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
The state public charter school district, however, needs attention from the legislature. Surprisingly, its public students do not receive the same funding as all other public school students in the Lowcountry. Why? Because they don’t get a local match.
Earlier this month, Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville) introduced Senate Bill 1269. It includes a critical component that will increase funding for schools within SCPCSD, and will allow local funds to follow each public school student from the school district where he or she resides to the public charter school the child attends.
I ask for all legislators’ and the public’s support in passing Senate Bill 1269 this year. If we want our gifted and talented students to be challenged and be the state’s leaders of tomorrow, we need to ensure public charter school students receive funding equivalent with the other public school students in the districts in which they live—no more, no less. Grace Anne and the others like her deserve the academic options that charter schools, like Palmetto Scholars Academy, will now provide to public school students.
Win Gasperson is the owner and certified clinician for Adaptive Limb and Brace, which provides prosthetic and orthotic care in the Charleston area.
To Statehouse Report:
Amen (to Andy Brack's 3/26 commentary on health care reform)! We preach the "Golden Rule" to each other and our children on a daily basis but "forget" the basics once something occurs that doesn't meet our approval. There will never be a time in which we all agree on everything, but we have a choice on how to react when faced with adversity. It is in these moments that "true character" shines through.
-- Jennifer Bozard, Charleston, SC
Want to send us a letter? Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less.
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Up, down and in the middle
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
Greenbates. State rebates for energy efficient appliances is great way to drive down future power generation demands. It’s even better that state residents are taking advantage of the program at such a fast clip. More.
Sanford. Yes, that Gov. Mark Sanford, gets a thumbs up for being … humble, which helped get the ESC reform law on the books. Well done. Finally. More.
S.C. Press Association. Thanks for featuring a snippet of publisher Andy Brack’s hour-long February comments before the Taxation Realignment Commission (TRAC) on your Web site. No thanks for mischaracterizing his comments that he “singled out the newspaper sales tax exemption as outdated before the TRAC commission recently.” Context is everything (at least that’s what we learned in journalism school).
Cigarette tax. It’s a good thing the Senate wanted to increase per-pack cigarette tax from 7 to 57 cents to pay for Medicaid and cut down the number of smokers; but they could have asked for a $1 million increase, because it ain’t gonna survive Sanford’s veto.
Obama. Thanks for health care. We’re gonna need it if you’re successful in opening the Atlantic Coast for offshore drilling. This ain’t the kind of “change” we were figuring on. More.
Crawford. Pay your taxes, dude, whispered the chronically late editor. More.
Guess why this guy made history
Statehouse Report is proud to offer a new feature every week that will highlight an historic photograph from the vaults of the South Carolina Political Collections at the University of South Carolina Libraries. For this week, guess who this guy was and why he made political history. When you think you know the answer, click on the photo to find out the scoop:
From The Vault is a partnership between Statehouse Report and the South Carolina Political Collections at USC Libraries. To learn more about the Collection's holdings, click here. You also might want to check out its blog: A Capital Blog. Let us know what you think about our new feature: Email Statehouse Report; Email SCPC.
Here comes Peter Cottontail