Fight over school money near an end

COLUMBIA - Gov. Mark Sanford predicted his fight to block federal money for schools is coming to an end and says he won't appeal court decisions on the issue.

Sanford told reporters and the Associated Press June 1 that he wasn't optimistic the court would side with him in a months-long battle against $700 million intended to spare schools and colleges from deep budget cuts.

On June 1, U.S. District Court Judge Joe Anderson rejected Sanford's argument that two state Supreme Court cases that aim to force him to request the money should be handled in U.S. District Court, according to Associated Press reports.

Anderson remanded the two lawsuits back to the S.C. Supreme Court, where they had been originally filed.

Sanford says if he loses the Supreme Court cases he'll drop his federal lawsuit against the stimulus money.

In all, South Carolina agencies and programs stand to get up to $2.8 billion over two years from Washington.
The disputed $700 million equates to about 10 percent of that figure. The dispute arose from Sanford's desire to use state dollars equal to the $700 million to pay down state debts.

"We continue to believe that this issue is fundamentally about the balance of power and separation of powers in our state, and our hope is that however it turns out it will serve as a reason for more people to make their voices heard about the outdated and bizarre government structure in South Carolina," Sanford stated in a press release issued from his office June 1. "Legislative dominance in our state costs all of us in very real terms for the way it breeds duplication and waste."

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex is hoping the fact that the two lawsuits where returned to the state Supreme Court will lead to a faster resolution of issues surrounding the federal stabilization funds, he stated in a June 1 press release.

"It's gratifying to hear that the governor doesn't plan to delay a resolution by filing an appeal," Rex stated in the press release. "We need to resolve this fiasco in a way that doesn't hurt kids. Every other state and governor is getting this done, and we need to get it done here, too."

Rex has completed and signed South Carolina's application, which now requires only Sanford's signature. If that should occur, Rex said the federal funds could be made available in two to three weeks, according to State Department of Education data.

"At this point, every day counts," Rex further stated in the press release. "The deadline to apply is July 1, which also is the first day of the new fiscal year. Many school districts have put their budget processes on hold because they don't know how many positions they'll be able to afford. But if they know the money is coming, they won't have to eliminate as many positions. They can avoid their worst-case scenarios."

A South Carolina Department of Education survey of school districts indicated that about 2,600 jobs, including 1,500 classroom teaching positions, will be eliminated next year unless the state receives the first half of stabilization funds. If South Carolina draws down the money, an estimated 700 jobs could be saved, including 500 teaching positions.

South Carolina schools have had nearly $400 million in cuts this year, according to State Department of Education data.