York County educators are rooting for a federal economic stimulus plan that could over two years inject millions of dollars into local schools for construction and services for low-income and disabled students.
But school officials say details are sketchy and it's unclear whether the draft, circulating among congressional committees, will be approved intact.
"Right now, we're certainly watching it closely," said Rock Hill schools Superintendent Lynn Moody. "We're still trying to determine exactly what it'll mean to us."
The money is part of President Barack Obama's massive economic stimulus proposal, which would offer South Carolina $2.5 billion. Of that, $291.4 million would go to build, renovate and modernize public schools. About $114 million is slated for low-income schools and $108 million for teaching disabled students.
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The money would be disbursed over two years and come with provisions.
For example, according to a draft of the bill dated Jan. 15, school districts can't spend money on "stadiums or other facilities primarily used for athletic contests or exhibitions or other events for which admission is charged to the general public."
The cash would be a welcome boost to the state's schools, which have lost nearly $334 million to state funding cuts since July. Educators expect the next fiscal year to be even tougher.
"Every new dollar is certainly helpful," said Clover schools Superintendent Marc Sosne. "But these new dollars aren't going to make it any easier to balance our budget next year."
Though the money that's allocated for construction and low-income and disabled students can't be used to offset lost state revenue, the bill allows state governors to apply for money that will.
The stimulus package's figures for S.C. schools, which project York County's four districts will receive more than $20 million in total, might need to be tweaked, said Betsy Carpentier, a deputy superintendent with the S.C. Department of Education.
The list omits charter schools and several specialized campuses, she said.
Federal lawmakers are shooting for a House vote on Wednesday, with delivery of approved legislation to Obama by mid-February.
Meantime, local school leaders are thinking about what to buy.
Clover schools' projected $660,000 in construction money could put new roofs on several schools, Sosne said.
"We're excited about the potential," said Moody, whose Rock Hill district stands to get about $3.6 million in construction money. That could pay for several construction and renovation projects Moody said she expected to postpone.
Rock Hill schools are projected to receive about $4.6 million to teach disabled students.
That really would help, Moody said.
"We are never funded enough" for students with special needs, she said.
York schools Superintendent Russell Booker said he would spend on technology. York's projected $1.5 million in construction dollars could help the district finish outfitting each classroom with an interactive white board. Teachers tout the chalkboard-sized touch screens as integral to the 21st century classroom.
About one-third of York's classrooms have the boards now, Booker said.
However, Booker tempered his enthusiasm.
"It's encouraging to see," he said. "But it's really a wait and see. We don't know a whole lot about how this money will flow through."
Fort Mill schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt echoed the sentiment.
"As much as we need money in public schools, it would be hard to turn down," Callicutt said. "But I still would like to have a whole lot more info. The devil is sometimes in the details and I'd like to know what the federal government would be expecting of us."