South Carolina’s public and private schools will get another nearly $900 million to help make classrooms safer for students, teachers and staff as the state’s education chief and governor push to reopen classrooms five days a week during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state received more than $846 million in federal one-time grants to help reopen public schools and nearly $40 million for private schools that will not need the governor’s approval to spend, said the state’s education department.
Gov. Henry McMaster and state schools chief Molly Spearman have pushed schools to reopen to students in-person all five days.
Not every school leader has been on board, since thousands of teachers and support staff have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Legislative efforts to push teachers to the current phase of vaccine doses — Phase 1A — have moved slowly through the Legislature. While the Senate adopted the measure this week, it is unclear whether the House will adopt the shift. And the governor has said repeatedly he will not try to move teachers up ahead of seniors who need the doses more, though the Legislature could override his veto should he take that step.
Right now, 682 schools have reopened face-to-face and 553 schools are still using a hybrid model — a mix of in-person classroom instruction and online virtual learning. Thirty-one schools are still teaching students strictly online, a model the state is hoping to change course on quickly. Those 31 schools include schools in Calhoun and Lee counties, but officials said it also includes schools in McCormick and Lancaster counties and some charter schools that have gone back face-to-face but have returned to virtual because of lack of staffing.
Spearman said Friday Calhoun and Lee county schools, school districts that have not offered face-to-face instruction at all, will soon implement a hybrid model so that students can return to school.
“The data shows schools are safe. We do not have to vaccinate everybody in order to go back to school five days a week, clearly it shows that,” said Spearman at a State Board of Education meeting this week. “Many schools have been back, they’re operating well and were not vaccinated. However, we are having to go from full face-to-face back to virtual because some teachers are getting infected, and this would be an extra layer of protection that I believe we should try and offer just as soon as possible.”
Every school district has since been matched with a COVID-19 vaccine provider, Spearman said Friday.
Spearman reiterated her support to move teachers up to Phase 1A.
“I support that teachers and educators be given priority in the vaccination immediately,” she said.
In December last year, Congress passed a COVID-19 spending bill that included billions to help reopen schools safely.
Out of that pot, the state department said South Carolina has received more than $846 million to help address areas of learning loss, school facility reports and improving indoor air quality. The grants must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023.
Those federal dollars are on top of the already issued $194.8 million the state got back last summer to be spent by Sept. 30, 2022.
For private schools, the state received nearly $40 million this week, prioritized by poverty rates.
State education department spokesman Ryan Brown called it an “unprecedented amount of money.”
“Our staff is working with our private school folks right now to make sure that this is done efficiently and as swiftly as possible,” Spearman said. “… The expectation from us is that much of it should be spent on overcoming learning loss that the students have.”
This is a developing story. Check back for details.