Lawsuit claims state voucher program violates SC Constitution

The South Carolina Education Association said the voucher program violates the constitution by directing public funds to private schools.
Published: Oct. 27, 2023 at 8:37 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2023 at 8:47 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - One of South Carolina’s top teacher organizations, public school parents and the state conference of the NAACP have filed a lawsuit stating the state’s private school voucher program is in violation of the state constitution.

The South Carolina Education Association said the voucher program violates the constitution by directing public funds to private schools.

The groups argue that the program “drains scarce state resources” that serve 90% of students in public schools.

“Our public schools already lack sufficient resources, so it makes no sense to use school vouchers to divide our limited state funds between public schools and unaccountable private schools,” Candace Eidson, parent of a student in Greenville County Public Schools said. “Unlike public schools, which serve all students, the private schools that receive voucher funds are allowed to choose which students they will serve and can engage in discrimination that would never be allowed in public schools. As a mother of a child who has autism, I fear my child and others like her will be negatively impacted by this program.”

The lawsuit argues the similarities between Senate Bill 39 which establishes the voucher program and the 2020 attempt from Gov. Henry McMaster to use COVID-19 funds to create the program.

That program was struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

“Our constitution reflects a binding commitment that the resources of our state should be used to fully fund our public schools, which serve all students,” South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said. “Instead of private school vouchers, we should invest in our public schools by reducing class size, addressing the teacher shortage crisis, and increasing parental involvement. S.39 is a clear violation of our state constitution. It cannot go unchallenged.”

The groups contend that the schools taking the money in the voucher program are not held to the same requirements as public schools.

They challenge the law on four provisions of the constitution:

  • First, Article XI, § 4 of the South Carolina Constitution prohibits the use of public funds for the direct benefit of private schools. In violation of this clear limit, S.39 requires the South Carolina Department of Education to transfer public funds to private schools for their direct benefit.
  • Second, by paying for the education of certain South Carolina students in private schools that are not free of charge nor open to all, the voucher program violates the requirement in Article XI, § 3 of the constitution that the State provide for the education of its children through a “system of free public schools open to all children” or other public educational institutions.
  • Third, the voucher program violates Article X of the South Carolina Constitution because it uses public funds without a sufficient public purpose, as the private schools funded by the program are not required to provide clear educational benefits in exchange for receiving public funds and may discriminate in their operations.
  • Fourth, S.39 charges the state Superintendent of Education with administering and overseeing the voucher program, impermissibly expanding the authority of the office of the Superintendent beyond its sole, constitutionally defined role as head of the public education system.

The groups are asking the State Supreme Court to hear this case.