Small Victory for Education in South Carolina
Background: For those of you not familiar with the battle between South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and the South Carolina State Legislature, there has been an ongoing battle over $700million worth of stimulus money. Gov. Sanford refused to apply for $700million dollars worth of stimulus money coming from the U.S. government that was slated primarily for education, unless the federal government allowed him to use it for something else. Since the taxpayers in South Carolina had to help pay back the money regardless if the state took it or not, even the Republicans in the legislature branch that were openly against Obama’s stimulus package fought with the governor to take the money. The $700million was the only part of the package that Gov. Sanford had direct control of. This back and forth game of politics has been going on for months meanwhile the school systems are left wondering how much more they needed to cut to make their budgets for next year. Both sides (legislature and executive) finally turned to the judicial system to make the decision. On Thursday June 4th, the state Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Sanford doesn’t have the right to refuse to apply for the stimulus money.
Most political writers claim that Gov. Sanford’s refusal to reject the stimulus money was a push to get himself nominated by the Republican Party for the next presidential election. I have a different theory. The entire time, Sanford kept claiming that the $700million portion slated primarily for education (except for $57million for law enforcement) was the only portion he had control over. Legal experts disagreed, saying that the governor actually had influence over a much larger portion of the stimulus package. Governor Sanford chose the portion of package that was going to be used to assist the struggling education in South Carolina, and he was willing to take it if Obama’s office agreed that he didn’t have to use it for education. South Carolina already has one of the worst education systems in the country, and Sanford has done nothing viable to correct the problem. Why would he care? His children are educated in an upscale private institution. What better way for South Carolina, and America, to keep the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, than to deny the poor and working class children of this country a decent education, while their children receive a superior education at high priced private schools.
This was only a small victory because this stimulus money won’t actually fix any of the problems with the South Carolina education system; it only helps minimize how much worse it gets. With the decrease in tax revenues due to the current economic situation, most school districts are closing schools and reducing the workforce. They are also cutting many valuable programs that they don’t have the money to afford. The decrease in staff and facilities causes a rise in classroom sizes, which affects the direct attention that each child is able to receive. The stimulus money only helps with some of the shortfall. Many districts are still closing schools and cutting programs, but not at the rate that would have been necessary without it. Some districts are now able to use scattered furlough days for teachers to make up the rest of the shortfall to minimize staff cuts.
Although it was only a small victory for education, it was a much bigger victory for the South Carolina government. Governor Sanford is crying that “The court’s decision reaffirmed that the state only has one branch of government – the legislature” and claims that this decision will affect the ability of future governors to do their job. I would have through if someone elected to be the governor of a state would have a good understanding for the checks and balances of having 3 separate branches of government. In this case the legislative branch questioned the legality of the executive branch to block money that would go toward the state budget, when it was their job to write the budget. The executive branch claimed that he was within his legal powers to reject the money. In this case, the judicial branch hears arguments from both sides, reviews the states laws, and makes a decision. This is a perfect example of how the checks and balances of our government worked. It doesn’t take any power away from one branch or another, it only answered the legality of the actions that Gov. Sanford was taking, in this case he over-stepped the powers of his office for his only personal reasons. The failure of the South Carolina governor to understand basic 7th grade government is a perfect example of the condition of the South Carolina education system.
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