SAFE grants receive mixed reaction from parents, teachers, administrators

Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 11:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Monday Governor Henry McMaster announced a new grant program aimed at making it easier for families to send their kids to private schools.

The Safe Access to Flexible Education Grants, also known as SAFE grants, will provide about 5,000 students with grant money to cover part of the tuition costs for private schools. Governor McMaster said he plans to use up to $32 million of the Emergency Education Relief Fund, also known as GEER, for the new program.

One private school headmaster said this will give kids the chance to come to their school who may not have been able to otherwise. However, parents and teachers across the midlands told WIS they feel the money could have been better spent helping public schools across the state.

“It could have bought PPE, it could have bought sanitization equipment, it could have bought more furniture to equip schools with social distancing guidelines,” Patrick Kelly, Blythewood Highschool teacher and Director of Governmental Affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said.

Kelly said Governor McMaster’s Emergency Education Relief Fund also could have funded implementing greater broadband capabilities in rural areas where students don’t have access to the internet, or hiring more school nurses for schools across the state. He also said it’s alarming and upsetting to see up to $32 million of the $48 million from the CARES Act allocated to SAFE Grants.

“Public schools face operational challenges that have never existed before, and that money could have been used to best equip our public schools and serve the vast majority of South Carolina students and are open to all,” Kelly said.

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Brittany Spoone, a parent of two children at New Providence Elementary School, agreed. She said that she believes that the program will benefit many students who might learn better in a private school setting, but that the proportion of funds Governor McMaster allocated to the program made her upset.

“We are still in public schools wondering how are we going to afford all the hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes and masks for all of these kids,” Spoone said.

Kelly added that private schools shouldn’t receive funds because they aren’t required to follow federal guidelines for schools.

“If our state leaders care about accountability, they cannot divert funds to schools that are not subject to accountability requirements,” Kelly said.

Frank Martin, the Head Of School for Thomas Sumter Academy, a private school in Sumter and Columbia, said the funds are critical for private schools.

“It not only helps the schools keep their doors open it also provides those that want that opportunity and would like to have a private school education to do so,” Martin said.

Martin said one benefit of private school is class size.

“Each one provides an opportunity for young people to excel in a smaller classroom setting,” Martin said.

He said that they are looking forward to potentially welcoming new students next month thanks to the new program.

The SAFE grants are available to students K-12 and can go up to $6,500 per student to cover tuition and other fees including transportation costs.

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