Department of Justice backs McMaster’s petition for rehearing in SAFE Grants case

Updated: Oct. 26, 2020 at 7:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Christy Lott said because of the COVID-19 pandemic about a third of her income is going solely to paying private school tuition for her children.

Lott and her children were one of the thousands of South Carolina families who were hoping to apply for a SAFE Grant.

The 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 (GEER) 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.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of South Carolina struck down the program. Ruling it violated the state constitution.

Governor McMaster has formally petitioned the state Supreme Court to rehear the case.

Lott said, “If they give all of the evidence a good look. I’m hopeful they’ll make a different decision.”

In the 33-page petition for a rehearing, the governor said the GEER funds do not qualify as state public funds. The petition also says the ruling impacts some of the CARES Act allocations the General Assembly made earlier this year.

The Justice Department has asked to join McMaster in this case. They are supporting his push for a rehearing and overturn of the first ruling.

In their filing, the Department of Justice said coronavirus relief funds from the federal government can be spent on private schools.

Public school advocates believe the money should be used elsewhere. Michael Burgess is a teacher in Lexington County and a member of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. He said, “If you’re the chief executive of the state, public education should be number one. During this Governor’s time in office - it has not been number one.”

No word just yet if justices will rehear the case.

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