Stimulus and S.C. Teacher Jobs – Checking the Facts

February 23, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveHundreds of teachers in South Carolina potentially losing their jobs was perhaps the starkest personification of a battle royale Gov. Mark Sanford waged last year over $700 million of the state’s federal stimulus funding.

So now, just a few days after the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the $787 billion stimulus into law, precisely how many teaching jobs in

South Carolina have been saved as a result of it? At what cost? And what about teacher furloughs?

The answers are not simple and to some degree remain unclear.

But, under federal and state mandates, the S.C. Department of Education and school districts across the state are collecting data in order to tell the rest of the story.

This much is certain: About $520 million in stimulus money has been allocated to South Carolina for K-12 education and those dollars have funded 4,459 positions, according to Department of Education spokesman Jim Foster.

The department has reported the 4,459 jobs to the federal government per a requirement of the stimulus, Foster says.

As with other big chunks of the state’s stimulus funding, such as in higher federal Medicaid matching rates, school districts are not spending all of their stimulus money on employment.

The number of jobs that school districts attribute to the stimulus has more than tripled since October, when the Department of Education reported 1,368 to Washington.

A breakdown of the 4,459 positions, provided to The Nerve by the department, shows that many of them are classroom instructors, particularly in special education.

But there is an array of other jobs listed in the breakdown, too. Those include assistant superintendent, school nurse, speech therapist, communications director, athletics director, personnel director, purchasing agent and federal projects coordinator.

Sanford pursued his stimulus showdown in an unsuccessful bid to use the $700 million to pay off some of the state’s debt.

Amid the governor’s standoff, the Department of Education asked school districts across the state how many instructors’ and other staff members’ jobs they might have to eliminate – with or without that disputed money.

Collectively, 1,900 with (1,000 teachers and 900 staffers) and 2,600 without (1,500 and 1,100, respectively), the survey showed. However, Foster cautions, “Those were projections.”

An April 2009 news release the department issued listed significantly more ominous numbers.

“Based on responses from two-thirds of the state’s 86 school districts, the South Carolina Department of Education projected today that districts will eliminate 5,200 jobs in next year’s budgets, including 2,700 teachers,” the release says.

If the state received the disputed money, the number of jobs cut would fall to 1,600, according to the release.

None of the projections proved to be accurate with regard to teachers. Even with the stimulus, school districts in the state eliminated a combined 1,400 teaching positions this year, according to Foster.

As for teacher furloughs, a proviso in this year’s state budget allows districts to furlough teachers and requires districts to notify the Department of Education if they do so, Foster says.

So far, 11 of the state’s 85 districts have reported furloughs this year, “and that number will probably continue to climb,” Foster says in an e-mail.

Newspapers have reported teacher furloughs in Aiken, Chesterfield and Kershaw counties in recent months, as well as other locations in South Carolina.

What about non-instructional staff?

“Everybody, practically, furloughed administrators last year,” Foster says.

In the General Assembly, the House Ways and Means Committee is moving ahead on a proposal to require five furlough days for all teachers and 10 for all administrators next school year, according to Foster.

Lawmakers are pursuing that idea even as they continue to dish out corporate welfare – also known as economic development incentives – that deprives the state of badly needed revenue.

In the biggest example ever, the Legislature passed an incentives package for the Boeing Co. in October valued conservatively at $500 million. The giveaways were designed to buy a 787 assembly plant, which is under construction in North Charleston.

The handouts to Boeing include up to $270 million in bonds, mainly for construction of the plant. The state will borrow that amount by issuing bonds and repay it with interest over 15 years, for an estimated total of $400 million in principal and interest for the bonds alone.

That’s free money – literally – for a multinational defense and aerospace corporation that generates billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The average salary for public school teachers in South Carolina was a little more than $47,400 in FY08-2009, according to the Department of Education.

At that rate, for the $400 million in bond debt the state is set to take on for Boeing, South Carolina could pay the salaries of about 8,435 teachers for one year; or some 843 for 10 years.

One more number drives home the point: the 1,400 teaching jobs that districts cut this year.

As for the bottom-line impact of the stimulus on K-12 education in South Carolina, it has largely offset steep funding reductions that the state’s public schools have been hit with as the economy has foundered.

Compared to the beginning of FY08-2009, K-12 public education is operating with $637 million less in state funding, according to Foster.

Subtract the $520 million in stimulus money from that amount and it leaves a net decline of $117 million.

Foster says next year will be worse for districts than this year because most of the state’s K-12 stimulus funding will have been spent by then.

Reach Ward at (803) 779-5022, ext. 117, or eric@scpolicycouncil.com.