Rex: Budget cuts will halt public education's momentum

The national Race to the Top competition provides competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform. South Carolina is one of 16 states that made the cut from the original 40 states that entered the competition for a portion of $4 billion in education stimulus funds. In the second major round of competition in Washington, D.C., State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex says South Carolina’s presentation was well-received and he is hopeful that he will hear some good news from the panel of judges next month. Rex says South Carolina’s solid standing in the competition is due in large measure to the state’s education community’s refusal to compromise on the high goals and standards it has for its students.
“We’ve always been ranked the last decade as either number one or two or three, we’ve never been lower than third, in terms of what we expect from our students. That has sometimes been used against us. because some states have lowered the bar and expected less of their students. On a comparative bases they looked like they were doing better than South Carolina when in fact they weren’t. So our high standards have served us well.”
Rex says the state has tripled its number of magnet schools and doubled the number of public charter schools. He says the Palmetto State leads the nation in single gender programs and is arguably the leader in Montessori programs in public schools.
Rex says the momentum that has been gained will be severely curtailed with massive cuts in education anticipated as the state legislature hammers out a budget for the next fiscal year amidst a major revenue shortfall.
“We’ve reached the point now where every district is going to suffer. We have 1400 fewer teachers in our public school classrooms this year than last year. The level of funding being discussed will mean that thousand of teachers will lose their jobs or be furloughed. We’re talking about only enough money to run the school buses in South Carolina 122 days in a 180 day school year. No one is going to escape the carnage next year,” Rex warns.
Rex says  that’s why he is hopeful for some good news from the Race to the Top competition in April. Rex says he will also continue to lobby the S.C. Senate to raise the state’s cigarette tax to the national average of $1.34 with half of the $240 million dollars generated from the tax going to education and the other half to health care.