Governor flies to Washington to support S.C. bid for stimulus

gnsmith@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2010 

Gov. Mark Sanford flew to Washington on Thursday to tell the Obama administration that South Carolina wants $300 million in federal stimulus money.

Sanford, who spent much of last year fighting parts of the Obama administration's stimulus plan, now wants S.C. to have a piece of $4 billion in "Race to the Top" education money.

The money is awarded to states based on their plans to improve education and innovate. Forty states have applied so far.

The Republican governor's trip, which did not appear on his official calendar, drew praise from U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.. Clyburn sparred with Sanford over his refusal last year to accept more than $700 million in stimulus money to help public schools, colleges and law enforcement agencies weather the nation's worst-ever recession.

"I am pleased to see that the governor is finally taking an interest in South Carolina's public schools," Clyburn said through a spokesman. "After going to court last year to prevent stimulus funds from coming to South Carolina, his meeting with (Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan appears to be the governor's admission that the stimulus was not only necessary but effective. I hope this is an indication he is willing to move forward together."

Sanford met with Duncan to learn more about a charter school program Duncan started in Chicago, said Ben Fox, the governor's spokesman. Sanford also took the trip to urge Duncan to support more charter school grants, Fox said.

The state Department of Education submitted a 1,251-page application last month, requesting nearly $300 million. Forty other states and Washington, D.C., also have submitted applications and are competing for money.

Each state created proposals to:

- Improve the quality of its teachers with an eye toward attracting and retaining teachers who get results in the classroom

- Build data systems that track students' progress throughout their school career

- Adopt tough standards and tests for all students that prepare them for college and careers

- Provide interventions and intensive help to turn around the lowest performing schools

South Carolina has been working on much of that already, the state Education Department says.

"For 10 years, we've been working on data systems," said Betsey Carpentier, who prepared the grant. "Many of these requirements are what we're already doing."

Sanford asked Duncan and his agency for guidance and advice on charter school programs, particularly the grants' "turnaround school" category.

Sanford also asked the U.S. Department of Education to extend an existing charter school grant, expiring in July, for two years.

If awarded the Race to the Top money, South Carolina would pay for various initiatives, including:

- New dropout prevention programs

- Outfitting more Montessori classrooms

- Giving incentives to teachers who agree to teach in the state's most challenged schools

- Building housing for teachers who agree to live and teach in rural areas where housing is hard to find

- Creating high-tech labs for students to learn about advanced manufacturing and green engineering

Money also would go toward improving data systems, including one that would link individual student achievement to student intervention programs and professional development teachers participated in. As a result, South Carolina could pinpoint and measure which student programs and teacher training gets results in the classroom.

Grant finalists will be announced in early March and winners announced in April. States that don't make the cut can tweak their applications and reapply by June.

Carpentier said South Carolina has a good shot at making the cut.

"We're in it to win it, and I'm hopeful," she said. "There's a lot that makes our state really attractive, like we've been acknowledged as having some of the highest standards in the country."

The pot of grant money may grow. Obama has announced plans to continue the grant, requesting $1.35 billion for it in his fiscal year 2011 budget.

As for Sanford, he is no longer fighting the stimulus. The governor has no interest in debating the issue again, as he noted in his executive budget, Fox said.

Now all Sanford wants to do is assure Duncan the state's application has bipartisan support.

John O'Connor and James Rosen contributed. Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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