South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced Monday that through SAFE (Safe Access to Flexible Education) Grants, $32 million will be put towards tuition grants for students at private, parochial, or independent schools in the state.
The grants are funded by monies received through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. Within the CARES Act was a component that went directly to governors to use at their discretion for education purposes, McMaster's office said.
Each state was given $48 million for a GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) fund, and McMaster allocated $32 million of it towards the SAFE Grants.
McMaster went on to say he thinks education is the "most important" thing the state does.
“If we can’t educate the children and educate them well, we’ve failed in our duty …” McMaster said.
These grants will be one-time, needs-based grants of up to $6,500 to help or subsidize the 2020-2021 tuition for eligible students. Approximately 5,000 grants will be able to be funded, he said.
Families whose children are not currently in private schools, but plan to be, are eligible to apply as well, he said.
To be eligible, a student must be from a household with an adjusted gross income of 300 percent or less of the federal poverty level.
McMaster said there will be a manager hired soon to work with the Department of Administration to organize the applications and be in charge of allocation.
“Private schools in our state provide an essential education to over 50,000 children,” McMaster said. “They provide parents the ability to choose the type of education environment and instruction they feel best suits their child’s unique needs. And a large number of these students come from working or low-income families – who - in the best economy – are barely able to scrimp and scrape together just enough money to pay their child’s tuition.”
He said that during the pandemic, with so much uncertainty and anxiety facing families, a child being removed from a school they love and thrive at might have major consequences educationally and emotionally.
“If we don’t have a strong education system for all of our children then we will never achieve the great prosperity we have possible. People around the world are looking to invest their money and they are looking at South Carolina, there are reasons for that. It’s the people,” McMaster said.
He said approximately 50,000 children in the state are in private schools.
Ellen Weaver, president and CEO of Palmetto Promise, said that the state owes parents peace of mind about their children’s learning.
“Many parents make huge sacrifices, essentially paying twice [taxes plus tuition]. We owe South Carolina taxpayers a robust return on the over $10 billion investment we make in K-12 public education every year. It means real hope for the lives that it touches … A small rudder turns a big ship,” Weaver said.
Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette went on to discuss school choice.
“Parents need the power to make the choice. I’ve been proud since I’ve been Lieutenant Governor to stand for school choice here in our state. Nobody loves their children more than their parents. Nobody is better qualified to make decisions about education than the parent of every single child,” Evette said.
Dr. Kevin Priest, head of Hampton Park Christian School in Greenville where McMaster made his announcement, said his school plans to open for regular five-day, in-person learning this Fall.
When asked if this allocation was in reaction to superintendents in the state pushing back about his announcement last week to give parents the choice between regular in-person, face-to-face learning versus 100 percent virtual learning, and he said it was not.
“This is something that … these legislators have been promoting for a number of years,” McMaster said. “We’ve got to make progress every day no matter what the critics say … There’s always critics about anything in government.”
He said that schools hoping to apply for these grants did not have to open full-time, face-to-face to be considered for the money allocation, but he reiterated that he thought that was preferable.
“Our guidelines are to give parents the choice – we understand all the teachers will be in school five days a week, we’d like the parents and students who want that option to have that option,” McMaster said.