Education advocacy groups, state lawmakers oppose use of GEER funds for private school scholarships

Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 8:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Shortly after Governor Henry McMaster announced that a large amount of CARES Act funding given to him to spend on education relief would create a school-choice program for families in South Carolina, several of the state’s top education advocacy groups released statements regarding the decision.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association and SC for Ed were among the groups who issued statements on Monday sharing their disapproval of how the funds will be used.

“Palmetto State Teachers Association has traditionally advocated against the establishment of any voucher program in South Carolina, and while the SAFE grant program is only for one year, it still has the hallmarks of a voucher system that diverts public dollars from public schools,” officials with PSTA said in a statement.

SC for Ed echoed those sentiments on Monday as well.

“The timing and location of McMaster’s press conference, at a private school in Greenville, are suspicious, at best, considering recent objections to McMaster’s press conference by the Greenville school district,” SC for Ed said in its statement. “We were and are disappointed in McMaster’s decision to call for a public school face-to-face option. We are further disappointed by his decision today to commit to using CARES Act funds, which could go to helping public school districts safely prepare for face-to-face instruction in the very schools he purports to want opened, to instead subsidize private schools (with $32 million of the governor’s $48 million in CARES funding going to private schools).”

The South Carolina School Boards Association also provided a response following McMaster’s announcement.

“The Governor’s decision not to direct more than 65 percent of his emergency coronavirus funding to assist the most disadvantaged students, and instead give it to more advantaged students ($6,500 to a family of four that makes $78,000 — 300% poverty) to stay in private schools is unfathomable,” SCSBA President Chuck Saylors said. “The cost of this program will benefit a few at the expense of many with no accountability to taxpayers that public schools are mandated to provide including: the administration of pre- and post-assessments, reports on expenditures and documentation of the impact of programs or services provided.”

State Senators Thomas McElveen and Karl Allen also chimed in Monday following the announcement calling it “overwhelmingly disappointing.”

“The hard-earned tax dollars that were meant for our public schools should never be directed anywhere else, no less in the midst of a public health crisis that already has our districts pinching pennies to keep children, teachers, and staff safe,” the joint statement said. “As leaders in this moment, we should be doing everything in our power to get public schools the resources they desperately need, not taking their funding away.”

State officials said a student would be eligible for the SAFE grants program if he or she is from a household with an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the federal poverty level.

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