GREENVILLE, S.C. (WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster is using a large chunk of the CARES Act funding given to him to spend on education relief to create a school choice grant program.
Of the $48 million he received in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, he is using $32 million to provide one-time scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools during the 2020-21 school year.
McMaster made the announcement Monday morning from a private school in Greenville.
The governor said the money should provide for about 5,000 grants to students.
Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grants, as McMaster is calling them, will allow parents to send their children back to school five days a week at a private institution.
The grants will only be available for the 2020-21 school year.
To be eligible for a SAFE Grant, a student must be from a household with an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would be $78,600 or less.
Each grant could provide up to $6,500 per student, based on a family’s income.
“As a long-time advocate for school choice, I’m thrilled to see the SAFE Grants program implemented in South Carolina,” Republican Congressman Jeff Duncan said. “I supported the CARES Act in Congress and am proud that Governor McMaster has decided to allocate some of the money towards a new school choice program.”
He added: “School choice is especially vital as South Carolina is moving to reopen schools this fall. Parents should always feel empowered to choose a school that best fits their child’s individual needs, especially in the midst of a pandemic.”
The governor’s announcement comes days after he urged all public schools to reopen to in-person learning five days a week starting Sept. 8.
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While some school districts altered their plans to follow his request, others submitted plans that would only provide virtual learning until COVID-19 cases went down in the state.
Critics of McMaster’s push to have schools open five days a week say it’s not safe while COVID-19 cases remain at an all-time high in late July.
For Monday’s announcement, the lieutenant governor, members of the General Assembly who support school choice and private school educators were also in attendance.
McMaster previously announced an investment of $2.4 million of GEER funds to South Carolina’s eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
That money is to be used for improving distance learning methods by upgrading the schools’ technology.
Following the announcement, the Palmetto State Teachers Association issued a statement regarding the decision.
“The Palmetto State Teachers Association is disappointed in Governor McMaster’s decision to direct $32 million in federal GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) funding to the new “SAFE grant” scholarship program. At a time where South Carolina’s public schools are faced with unprecedented operational challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic, these funds could be better used by ensuring our public schools have as many resources as possible to ensure a safe return to in-person instruction when public health conditions make it possible to do so.”
This story will be updated.