AIKEN - In an effort to bag South Carolina's pervasive litter problem, the state Education Department is offering $200,000 to middle and high schools for cleanup projects.
At least 150 grants will be awarded, Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum announced Tuesday. Schools can apply for up to $1,500, but the amount given will depend on the number of participants. The funds are to be used for cleanup supplies, anti-litter campaigns, field trips and equipment.
"It is important that we instill in our young people a sense of civic responsibility," Mrs. Tenenbaum said.
The mini-grants are part of the Palmetto Pride Education Initiative recently launched by Gov. Jim Hodges to call attention to the state's litter woes. The group is funded through increased fines for litter violators. In the Palmetto State, officials estimate 1 million pieces of trash are thrown from automobiles each week.
Lesson plans that integrate education and environmental awareness also are available for grades kindergarten through 12 from the Education Department, which is including the anti-litter effort in its character education crusade.
Mrs. Tenenbaum said the next phase of the education initiative includes the distribution of Palmetto Pride Promise Cards to elementary school pupils this spring. Pupils will ask friends and family to promise not to litter. Schools with at least 90 percent participation will be recognized by the governor.
Mr. Hodges has made litter reduction a top priority since taking office in January. And soon after, state Sen. David Thomas, R-Fountain Inn, started an anti-littering task force. Since then, some big names have joined in, including University of South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries and NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough.
When he joined the group, Mr. Holtz said trash on the state's roadways was a sign that residents didn't have as much pride in their state as he thought before moving to South Carolina.
State Rep. James Smith Jr., D-Columbia, also wants the time litterbugs spend picking up trash increased from five hours to 15.
Several other state organizations have joined in the litter fight:
The Department of Corrections has more than doubled litter crews, from 10 to 21, with more than 14 inmates on each crew.
South Carolina Educational Television is producing anti-litter public service announcements for radio and television.
Parks, Recreation and Tourism has partnered with the Department of Transportation to educate visitors of South Carolina's welcome centers about recycling. PRT also is working with the Department of Natural Resources on the Plus-One boating box, which provides litter bags for boaters and places to dump their garbage at pickup points on the lakes.
Deadline for applications is Dec. 13. Grants will be awarded in January. Applications are available on the Education Department's Web site www.state.sc.us/sde. Call Karen Horne at (803) 253-7636 or Tina Fant at (803) 376-5339.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895