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Governors Vs. Kids

Educators win a key round

By Alain Jehlen


Educators and students demonstrate at the South Carolina tent city.

Photo: Joanie Lawson

In a victory for kids, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ordered Gov. Mark Sanford to file the papers needed to receive over $700 million in federal economic Recovery Act funds for the state's schools and colleges.

The court order, which he obeyed, means thousands of teachers and support professionals will stay at their posts helping children get an education, according to Sheila Gallagher, president of The South Carolina Education Association.

Even with the federal funds, Gallagher said probably more than 1,000 educators will be out of work because of plummeting revenues.

The SCEA had fought Sanford’s decision to reject the federal help with e-mails, a rally, a tent city reminiscent of the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression, and legal arguments for the court.

Across the country, many NEA state affiliates are working to get the federal recovery funds used as they are intended, to save jobs and keep education on an even keel in the face of sharply shrinking state and local tax revenues. In some states, they are working hand in glove with political leaders, but in others, they’re in a fight.

In Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin has said she wants to turn down 31 percent of the funds for her state, mostly for education. NEA-Alaska is leading a coalition effort to make her change her mind.

In Hawaii, the State Teachers Association ran radio spots as part of their fight with the governor to get Recovery Act funds spent on education.

In South Carolina, The SCEA President Gallagher notes that Gov. Sanford has a long history of not supporting public schools. But on the side of the kids, there is a broad range of powerful groups including The SCEA and the Republican-controlled state legislature.

This is the state with the “Corridor of Shame”—a string of low-income, mostly minority school districts with horrendous school conditions that were highlighted in a video documentary and a photography exhibit.

When the President’s economic stimulus package was still working its way through Congress, 14-year-old Ty'sheoma Bethea, a student in one of those districts, wrote a letter urging Congress to pass the bill and get some help to her hard-hit school. President Obama invited her to his speech to Congress last February, sharing her story with the nation in his effort to get the funds flowing to where they’re needed.

After many marches, letters, phone calls, votes, and finally a court ruling, Ty'sheoma’s school may finally get its share.

[Posted June 10, 2009]