WASHINGTON — Almost a year after President Barack Obama promised on prime-time television to help a deteriorating South Carolina junior high school, his administration said Tuesday it will provide a $23.5 million, low-interest loan to replace it.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday announced $140.4 million to build or renovate 14 mainly rural hospitals, schools and fire departments in 11 states, including a $35.8 million loan and a $4 million grant for J.V. Martin Junior High and other schools in Dillon County, S.C.
"I'm elated," said Ray Rogers, the superintendent of Dillon School District 2. "Because of the economy, we've been in a stew around here trying to get funding for this project. We didn't know how much longer we were going to have to wait."
Ty'Sheoma Bethea, then an eighth-grader at the J.V. Martin, sat next to first lady Michelle Obama in February during Obama's first address to Congress as president after she'd written lawmakers a letter complaining of conditions at the school.
As members of Congress stood and applauded, Obama pointed at Ty'Sheoma and promised to help J.V. Martin and other crumbling schools across the country.
About $23.5 million, from a 4 percent, 40-year USDA loan, will be used to replace J.V. Martin, Rogers said. Part of the $4 million direct grant will fund construction of a new lunchroom.
The rest of the money will go for renovating an elementary school, middle and high schools, and building a new Early Childhood Development Center, USDA officials said.
The funds will come from the $787 billion economic-stimulus bill Obama signed into law in February.
"The Recovery Act funds we are announcing today further demonstrate the Obama administration's unyielding efforts to improve the quality of life for rural residents," Vilsack said.
The announcement came on the day before Obama's first State of the Union address.
Hours before the funding for J.V. Martin and other schools was announced, the Washington Post ran a large front-page photograph of J.V. Martin's condemned auditorium — with an article noting that Obama's televised pledge to help it hadn't been fulfilled.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, whose district includes J.V. Martin, said he'd met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina during the past year to try to secure funds for the school.
"Ever since Ty'Sheoma Bethea's story put the problems at J.V. Martin on the map, I've been working in South Carolina and in Washington to see what could be done," Spratt said.