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Lawsuit to halt private school grants passed to S.C. Supreme Court

Staff Report //August 5, 2020//

Lawsuit to halt private school grants passed to S.C. Supreme Court

Staff Report //August 5, 2020//

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In the latest move to halt Gov. Henry McMaster’s plan to use COVID-19 funding for private school tuition for low- to moderate-income students, Safe Access to Flexible Education opponents filed a lawsuit against the program in the S.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The suit follows an Orangeburg trial court judge’s decision to block the program on July 22 and a corresponding hearing on July 29.

The program, launched on July 20 at Hampton Park Christian School, supports 5,000 grants of up to $6,500 to independent school students from homes making an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the federal poverty level.

The grants are to be financed by $32 million in allocations from the state’s $48 million Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, according to a news release.

“None of the funds disbursed from the GEER fund are currently designated to benefit public school students on the K-12 level,” said a July 30 memo from the plaintiff, Thomasena Adams, an Orangeburg educator.

The memo argues that CARES act funding for public school students in Greenville would balance out at $250 per student, between 6% and 26% lower than funding per student from the SAFE program.

The original complaint charged McMaster and advocacy group Palmetto Promise Institute of violating the state constitution’s ruling that public funds could not be used for “the direct benefit of any religious or other private education institutions.”

Palmetto Promise Institute and its legal team, the Liberty Justice Center, argue that the halted funding leaves private school students impacted by the pandemic in a financial and educational limbo.

“We are committed to protecting the relief that Safe Access to Flexible Education Grants would provide for struggling moderate and low-income students and their families,” Ellen Weaver, president and CEO of Palmetto Promise Institute, said in the release. “We maintain that based on an overwhelming mountain of state and federal legal precedent, Gov. McMaster has the ability to implement this lawful program that would give these students the opportunity to attend school that fit their specific needs. We will use all legal means to continue this fight for those students who deserve the education hope that SAFE Grants will provide.”