U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan chided South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford today for his refusal to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money that could help strapped colleges and public schools in his state. "The children of South Carolina are hurting and desperately need these resources," Duncan told reporters in a briefing about the stimulus. "I can't begin to understand why any adult would do anything that would jeopardize children's education. That's unfathomable to me."
Sanford, a Republican, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the federal stimulus package, saying it will only create more debt for states once the funding runs out. He has put South Carolina lawmakers on notice that he plans to reject much of the $700 million available for the state unless he can use the money to pay down the state's debts instead. His proposal puts him at odds with members of the state House of Representatives, which recently passed a budget that relies heavily on federal stimulus aid, mostly to fund healthcare and education agencies.
"Without [the stimulus funds], teachers would lose jobs, prisons would be closed, and inmates released early," Dan Cooper, a Republican state representative, told the Associated Press. Other prominent politicians, including U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, have also criticized Sanford, accusing him of "playing political chess." Sanford is thought by some pundits to be positioning himself to run for president in 2012.
Duncan said federal education dollars will begin flowing to states within 30 to 45 days. The first wave of education funds is expected to help states avoid massive teacher layoffs. Some school districts, however, are preparing to make staff cuts anyway, fearing that the stimulus aid won't be enough to get them out of the red. In Los Angeles, for example, the board of education approved sending preliminary layoff notices to about 9,000 employees, most of them teachers, the Los Angeles Times reports. The district faces a nearly $700 million shortfall, which could get worse over the next 18 months, according to the schools' chief. No final decisions on layoffs will be made until June.