Dillon County, S.C. has some of the worst public education facilities in the nation, facilities so bad that they caught the eye of then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Now, President Obama has decided to do something about the horrid state of the buildings, some of which are nearly 115 years old.
The county’s schools will receive nearly $40 million in federal stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including a $4 million grant, and a $35.8 million loan, the department announced January 26.
During his campaign, Obama visited Dillon twice to highlight his message that the federal government should assist local school districts with construction costs.
Nearly $25 million of the funds will go to the re-construction of J.V. Martin Junior High. The school gained public attention after eighth-grader Ty’sheoma Bethea wrote a letter to Obama asking for help for the school and, subsequently, was invited to attend Obama’s first address to Congress last year.
The $40 million is still short of the amount school officials had hoped for. According to The Washington Post, architects designed plans for a new $55 million facility, plans which will have to be scaled back.
“The dream school is probably still out of reach, but this is a great boost for us,” Ray Rogers, Dillon School District superintendent, told the Post. “This is a big step in the right direction.”
However, some have questioned the timing of the announcement of the funds. Coming just a day before Obama’s State of the Union speech, many believe it may have been a calculated political ploy.
“It’s hard to imagine that there are not political considerations in a lot of these things,” R.J. Shealy, spokesman for South Carolina Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s great that they're getting the renovations they need. But it shouldn’t have taken a $787 billion stimulus [bill] to do it.”
Whatever the president’s motivation may be, school officials are pleased with the assistance.
“It’s been slow [to come], but the problem is, we didn’t know that the economy was going to take the downturn that it has,” Rogers told the Times. “A lot of people have worked hard. Whatever we can do is going to be great for the kids.”