SC Supreme Court strikes down Gov. McMaster’s SAFE grants program

Updated: Oct. 7, 2020 at 7:53 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Supreme Court has struck down Gov. Henry McMaster’s SAFE grants program which would move money the state received from the CARES Act to assist tuition costs at private schools.

In Wednesday’s unanimous ruling, the court stated that McMaster’s allocation of millions of dollars to support the SAFE grants program constitutes the use of public funds for the direct benefit of private education institutions which is prohibited by the South Carolina Constitution.

The program would allocate $32 million in funds to private school tuition in the form of grants paid to families to help offset tuition for private and parochial schools.

“I remain committed to providing educational opportunity for lower income families and families with special needs at public and private kindergartens, schools, and colleges,” McMaster said in a statement. “In addition to the lower income families directly affected by this decision, it may also place in jeopardy millions of CARES Act dollars recently appropriated by the General Assembly to directly reimburse independent private colleges and HBCUs. We will request the Court to reconsider this important decision.”

You can read the court’s full ruling below:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, the South Carolina Independent School Association, and the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools released the following joint statement regarding the court’s ruling.

“It is disappointing that the Supreme Court has decided to further hurt those low- to middle-income families who are suffering financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By blocking their access to SAFE Grants money, parents may not be able to send their children to the school of their choice.”

“We will continue to fight for this program and for the children who deserve to attend the school that best suits their educational and emotional needs.”

McMaster announced the Safe Access to Flexible Education Grants program this past July and said it would provide scholarships or one-time grants to help families subsidize tuition for the state’s participating private, parochial or independent schools in the state.

Approximately 5,000 grants would be funded through the plan, according to state officials. The grants, of up to $6,500, will be needs-based, McMaster said this past summer.

To have been eligible for SAFE Grants, a student must be from a household with an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the federal poverty level.

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