School choice advocates say thousands of SC families wanted SAFE Grants

The grant program was struck down by the state Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court struck down the grant program, saying the governor could not use public money to benefit private institutions.
Updated: Oct. 9, 2020 at 5:08 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Jeremiah Dew says because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his family decided to send their daughter to private school this fall.

“There was a lot of confusion over what the school district here was going to do,” Dew explained.

Dew said he and his family were going to apply for a SAFE Grant for their daughter.

SAFE Grants would have provided up to 5,000 families with one-time scholarships to help cover private school tuition costs. They would be paid for with the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds -- federal money given to Gov. Henry McMaster as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

McMaster hoped to spend $32 million of the $48 million he received on the SAFE Grants program.

“It would’ve been a very big relief for us for her private school tuition,” he said.

But Wednesday, the Supreme Court of South Carolina struck the grant program down, saying it violated the state constitution.

Justices ruled the grants would have used public funds for the direct benefit of private educational institutions.

Dew said he was disappointed by the news. And his family wasn’t the only one.

Dr. Shaunette Parker, Director of Parent and Community Engagement with My SC Education, said there were 15,000 families who had shown interest in the program.

“It feels like everyone wants to create this dichotomy where everyone has to be for this issue or that issue,” Parker said. “It’s really frustrating because we feel like we’re missing the mark for our children.”

But public school advocates say this was a big win for public education.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association said they were pleased with the court’s ruling and didn’t want to see the public funds be used outside of the public-school system.

Director of Government Affairs, Patrick Kelly, said he believes this ruling could impact any potential voucher program legislation in 2021.

“As the state Supreme Court pointed out, there is no other way to interpret a voucher or scholarship program that is funded by the state than as a direct violation of Article 11 of our state constitution,” he said.

The South Carolina Education Association said they hope the governor explores other options for the $32 million.

“My hope is he would reconsider and look at the areas in the state that are struggling right now and put that money to use in the places where we’ve known for years it needs to go,” SCEA President Sherry East said.

Dew said his family is going to keep doing whatever it takes to make sure their daughter gets the best education possible.

“We still have to make the right decisions for us and we will continue to work hard,” he said.

McMaster said he will ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

You can read the full ruling below.

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