Court temporarily blocks McMaster’s SAFE Grants program

Court temporarily blocks McMaster’s SAFE Grants program
Gov. Henry McMaster announced the SAFE Grants program Monday, which was designed to help subsidize tuition for private school for lower-income families. (Source: Jason Raven)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An Orangeburg County circuit court judge signed a temporary restraining order Wednesday to prevent the distribution of SAFE Grants designed to help subsidize private and parochial school tuition for lower-income students.

The court order from Orangeburg County Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson states a hearing will be held at 2 p.m. on July 29 at the Orangeburg County Courthouse.

The plaintiff, who has worked for more than 15 years in public education, petitioned the court claiming the grant program violates a portion of the South Carolina Constitution preventing the state from funding private or religious education.

“Working families in South Carolina are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic and every parent should have the opportunity to choose the educational instruction that best suits their child’s needs,” Governor’s spokesman Brian Symmes said in response to the restraining order. “Federal coronavirus relief cannot, and should not, be denied to any citizen in need.”

Gov. Henry McMaster announced the Safe Access to Flexible Education Grants at a news conference Monday, saying he was allocating $32 million in funding for the program. The money comes from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. South Carolina’s share of GEER Funds totaled $48 million.

Under the plan, grants of up to $6,500 would be needs-based and to be 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, McMaster said.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston spokesperson Maria Aselage released a statement late Wednesday afternoon on the court’s decision:

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.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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