COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – This year, South Carolina public schools will receive an historic influx of cash — $2.1 billion — after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan earlier this month.
In addition, the state has already received $1.1 billion after the passage of the CARES Act over the summer and the supplemental COVID-19 response bill that passed in December.
“It’s an unprecedented amount of money; it’s more money than we’ve ever received,” said South Carolina Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown.
Brown explained this is not the full pot of cash public schools will have at their disposal this year, because it will be added to funding already allocated.
In a typical year, South Carolina received $10 billion from state, local, and federal funds.
So altogether, $13 billion will go to South Carolina K-12 public schools this year.
About 90 percent of the funding from the federal government will go directly to school districts, but the Department of Education will review district spending plans, and the agency has the power to deny requests.
“This isn’t just free money, so we really got to make sure that they’re used appropriately,” Brown said. “It’s very important that money is spent on programs and initiatives that keep schools safely open and support students that may be struggling.”
History teacher and Palmetto Teachers Association Director of Government Affairs, Patrick Kelly, is excited about how this money could improve public schools for years to come. However, he has concerns that some districts may spend the funds on “flashy technology” and “fancy things.”
But if used correctly, Kelly says this funding can drastically improve schools in the state.
“As a history teacher I don’t use this terminology lightly, but this level of federal stimulus to our schools is really a New Deal-level kind of money,” he said.
While the federal government has guidelines for how the funds need to be used to address the damage caused by COVID-19 and help students go back to in-person learning, Kelly says some of the longstanding issues he has been trying to get fixed in schools around the state can now be addressed.
“Insufficient or outdated infrastructures, like HVAC systems…oversized classrooms and oversized student to teacher ratios, or lack of sufficient mental supports and social supports for students — all of those factors that have existed in our schools for years have been put on blinding display by the pandemic,” Kelly said.
Brown said the Department of Education’s priorities for the funds include making sure schools have all the resources needed to safely return to in-person learning and helping students who have fallen behind during the pandemic.
He is also hopeful the money could be used to improve school buildings, help retain teachers to combat the shortage of educators in South Carolina, and make sure every school has a full-time nurse on staff.
“There’s a wide range of possibilities and I think it’s important that the state and the funding we receive and the school districts that they think transformative with this and really outside the box,” Brown said.
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