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High School Senior Sues South Carolina Over Stimulus Funds

Leonard Gilroy
April 17, 2009, 5:20pm

Now we have a new and distasteful (IMO) twist in the ongoing drama in South Carolina over federal stimulus dollars, as The State reports today. The playbook here appears to be this: when someone stands between spending-addicted pols and the manna from Capitol Hill, Plan A is to demonize, and if that doesn't work, Plan B is to get a sympathetic kid to sue the state and play the heartstrings.

A Chapin High School senior has filed a lawsuit asking the S.C. Supreme Court to decide who — Gov. Mark Sanford or the Legislature — controls $700 million in disputed federal stimulus money. [...] Casey Edwards, the 18-year-old who filed the lawsuit Thursday, said S.C. students and schools are suffering from budget cuts and would benefit from the money.

In a statement, Sanford — who has gained national attention for his anti-stimulus position amid speculation he might run for president in 2012 — called the challenge a "politically-driven press spectacle ... rather than a suit with any actual merit." For weeks, Sanford and lawmakers have been at odds over whether to include $350 million in federal money in the state's budget for the year that starts July 1. More than 80 percent of that money must be spent on K-12 and colleges, according to federal rules. An additional $350 million can be spent the following year.

Sanford must apply for the money before it can be sent to South Carolina. The Republican governor has said he will not ask for it unless lawmakers agree to pay off an equal amount of state debt. A clause in the bill — inserted by U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. — was intended to allow lawmakers to accept the money if Sanford refused it, but legal questions have cut off that avenue.

"I've had a great experience in my Chapin schools," said Edwards, who said she sold Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches to raise money for a Dillon County school last year after seeing a documentary on the poor conditions at schools along the Interstate 95 corridor. "Every student should have that same quality of education."

The lawsuit is the first effort to force a resolution to the stimulus impasse. However, lawmakers also may include the money in the state budget or pass a bill ordering Sanford to accept it. [...]

Sanford criticized the lawsuit as filed by two Columbia political insiders — Drake and former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian — and added the White House and McMaster previously have said federal law gives him control over the money.

Referring to an anti-tax rally he addressed Wednesday, Sanford said, "Thousands of taxpayers in our state stood up yesterday and said they're tired of government spending beyond its means, that they're tired of these so-called ‘stimulus' efforts out of Washington, D.C., and that they're tired of Columbia insiders like these driving decisions in the State House."

I don't begrudge Ms. Edwards her fifteen minutes and have no doubt she sincerely believes in what she's doing, as misguided (and misled) as I think she is. But it also seems evident that her "great experience" in schools did not include a lesson on the harsh reality of education policy—despite abundant good intentions and wishful thinking, more spending on education hasn't produced better outcomes. As Reason's Lisa Snell wrote earlier this year in a particularly illuminating article ("Huge Stimulus Plan Won't Change the Education System's Status Quo"):

The stimulus package will spend more than double the current total federal education budget, bringing federal funding of education to well over $200 billion. Unfortunately, this huge expansion is unlikely to spur improvements in public education and will continue to encourage states and local districts to spend money with little regard to student outcomes.

In the last 30 years, the United States has doubled per-pupil spending in real dollars. We spend more money on education for K-12 than most other industrialized countries. According to the OECD's 2008 Education at a Glance, the United States ranks number one in all education spending and well above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average for K-12 education. Yet, outcomes for students at the end of their public education career have not kept pace with these large-scale investments. The average reading and math scores for 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the nation's benchmark for student achievement, are no better today than they were in 1971; SAT verbal scores show a decline (from 530 in 1972 to 504 today); and SAT math scores have been essentially flat (from 509 in 1972 to 515 today). U.S. graduation rates were 78 percent in 1972 and are 74 percent today; and U.S. 15-year-olds score below the international average on science and math literacy when compared with 30 OECD countries - American kids rank behind students from Poland, Hungary, and France to name a few.

If improving education is the goal, then the last thing you'd want to do is pour more money into the failed status quo.


Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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