Zais says refusing federal money will save SC taxpayer’s money

October 24, 2011 at 10:40 am

By Leon G. Russ

HOMETOWN NEWS

South Carolina Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais stopped in Spartanburg on Tuesday, September 27 to address T.E.A.Ch (Teachers Educating All Children) at USC Upstate’s University Readiness Center.

Zais seemed to know what would be coming during his question and answer session and looked to head it off when he pointed out, “I can’t independently dictate or mandate policy.  I can only hope to shape each policy.”

That didn’t stop the first question he took from Alice Hatcher Henderson.

She noted she was getting calls from friends from other states asking why South Carolina turned down federal money and had it sent to other states even though South Carolinians would still be required to pay back the federal monies they turned down.

Zais first replied saying, “We didn’t turn down all federal aid.  I worked hard to get $75 million for our special needs children (and) an action is pending to get $36 million in perpetuity for our special needs children.

We take federal aid for many programs.”

He then said he didn’t like the “Race to the Top” program and refused the funds because “it paid for administrative programs and external consultants.  That money didn’t pay for one school bus, one teacher, one computer, one textbook, or one brick.”

He then said, “It wasn’t a lot of money, $12 million, only $4.44 per student.”

Zais added, “Furthermore after four years after the money ran out we would have to maintain the program, and that’s called an unfunded mandate.”

He noted, “It’s a bad program and one we didn’t want.”

Zais said many in the Department of Education didn’t want it either.

He didn’t actually address the question that was more about how many folks feel he picked their pocket and gave away their tax dollars.

Following his remarks this reporter questioned him again on the issue.  He elaborated, “It was an unfunded mandate and what that means is that the state taxpayers would have to pay for those programs even after they federal dollars ran out and we don’t need those programs.  Paying for programs after the federal funding runs out is a problem.”

During his address he told those gathered his number one priority would be working with the General Assembly to pass a bill, The Teacher Protection Act, limiting parents’ ability to sue teachers, to limit “frivolous lawsuits.”

This reporter asked him how many lawsuits were filed against teachers last year.  He wasn’t able to provide a number but said, “Far too frequently administrators are intimidated by the threat of lawsuits.  I’ve heard of a number particuarly when they have to break up a fight.  When they lay a hand on the child parents threaten to sue.”

During his remarks Zais said “no child should be forced to attend a failing school.  You should be able to pick your school.”

He said a combination of traditional school, cyber, year-round, charter, single-gender, Montessori, and home schooling should be available to all students and he advocated taking kids out of failing schools.

Speaking afterwards this reporter questioned him about his stance on failing schools. Noting the I-95 “Corridor of Shame” is littered with failing schools Zais was asked what he would do to fix so many failing schools.

He responded, “Remove the ineffective teachers from the classrooms and the ineffective principals from the schools.  Provide charter schools and magnet schools, over time those schools will improve.”

Addressing many future teachers he commended them for choosing the profession saying, “It’s a calling (and) you make a difference by leading young people.”

Zais told them, “The best way to improve education is by investing in teacher education” but he gave no indication of how that would be funded.

lruss@hometown-news.com