Governor Henry McMaster’s decision to direct $32 million in federal GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) funding to the new “SAFE grant” scholarship program has been met with both support and concern. However, in an article by Jamie Lovegrove of the Post and Courier, Skyler Hutto, an Orangeburg attorney and the son of Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto, argued in a court filing that McMaster’s plan violates a portion of the state constitution that prevents the government from funding private or religious education. Orangeburg County Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson granted Hutto’s request for a temporary restraining order Wednesday morning until arguments can be heard in court, expected next week.
During McMaster’s July 20, press conference, he said scholarship accounts are being created for K-5 through 12th at participating independent schools. The first 2,500 grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis with the remainder allocated by lottery. During his July 20, press conference, McMaster said many families would like to have the choice to send their kids to private or independent schools and some that are already in these schools can’t make ends meet.
On July 23, South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA) released a statement. “The Governor’s response indicates his awareness that COVID-19’s impact has not discriminated and is hurting the public and private sectors equally. The Governor’s response likewise does not discriminate or alienate any group. Independent school children and families are South Carolinians who also need relief. Governor McMaster has placed the students of South Carolina in an outstanding position for future academic success by the development and implementation of the SAFE Scholarship. This scholarship will enable students and families that have suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic an opportunity to enroll or continue their enrollment in one of our many outstanding independent schools across South Carolina.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston supports the program that will make grants up to $6,500 available to low and middle-income South Carolina families for use at participating independent schools. In a statement the Diocese applaud Governor McMaster for ensuring South Carolina students can remain in the schools of their choice during these incredibly challenging times,” said Maria Aselage, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston.
Aselage also responded to the temporary restraining order. “This temporary injunction hurts low- and middle-income parents who want to continue sending their children to the school of their choice. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn in the educational environment that best suits his or her needs, whether it is a public, private, or religious school. Gov. McMaster recognized that by announcing the SAFE Grants program. We stand with parents and their children and their right to the quality education that best suits their needs in the midst of a pandemic. We, again, thank Gov. McMaster and will pray for appropriate resolution in this important matter.”
Others, such as South Carolina School Boards Association President Chuck Saylors found the governor’s decision unfathomable. “The challenges that many of our state’s rural and high poverty public schools must tackle on a daily basis are great during the best of times, much less during a pandemic that is disproportionately attacking the very citizens in the areas these public schools are located,” Saylors said in a press release.