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Private school SAFE grants halted by circuit court judge

Molly Hulsey //July 24, 2020//

Private school SAFE grants halted by circuit court judge

Molly Hulsey //July 24, 2020//

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Gov. Henry McMaster’s plans to offer need-based grants to private schools have been halted with a temporary restraining order signed by an Orangeburg County circuit court judge (.pdf).

The complaint (.pdf), filed by attorney Skyler Hutto for Orangeburg educator Thomasena Adams, challenges the legality of McMaster’s Safe Access to Flexible Education grants announced Monday at Greenville’s Hampton Park Christian School. The grants, worth about $32 million, were bound for private school students from families bringing home an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the federal poverty level, according to a release.

The SAFE program is financed from state Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding allocated to the $48 million Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

The complaint, filed on July 21, argues that the grant violates the S.C. Constitution and runs afoul of former rulings, citing Title XI, Section 4 of the constitution: “No money shall be paid from public funds nor shall the credit of the state or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private education institutions.”

The complaint also indicates that SAFE grant recipients could receive 13 times — $6,500 maximum — the funding offered to an average public school student in Orangeburg, with an even greater disparity of 45 times the funding extended to an average Richland County School District Two student.

“Defendant Governor McMaster’s proposed use of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief would directly violate South Carolina jurisprudence,” the complaint said.

Following orders from Edgar Dickson, judge of Orangeburg County’s First Judicial Circuit, the Palmetto Promise Institute cannot distribute any grant monies until a ruling following a hearing on July 29 at the Orangeburg County Courthouse.

The governor’s office argues that unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures for families in need.

“Working families in South Carolina are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic and every parent should have the opportunity to choose the education instruction that best suits their child’s needs,” Brian Symmes, communication director for the governor’s office, said in a statement. “Federal coronavirus relief cannot, and should not, be denied to any citizen in need.”

Palmetto Promise also released a statement following the complaints, arguing that the plaintiffs are incorrect legally and that their action is damaging to families served by the pending grants.

“We look forward to defending the right of every South Carolina student to get the education they deserve,” the statement said.