SC Supreme Court rules Governor McMaster’s SAFE Grants Program unconstitutional

South Carolina News

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks during a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in West Columbia, S.C. As of Monday, McMaster says all businesses will be allowed to be open, as long as they adhere to social distancing and capacity limits. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a proposed federal allocation of $32 million in Emergency Education Relief funds to private schools is unconstitutional.

According to the Court, McMaster’s intention of using the funds for the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grants Program, which provides grants for students to attend private and independent schools, “violates [the] constitutional mandate prohibiting public funding of private schools.”

Chief Justice Donald Beatty explained that “the use of public funds for the direct benefit of private educational institutions” is “prohibited by Article XI, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution.”

The funds, which were allocated by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, are designated by Congress to:

  • Provide emergency support through grants to local educational agencies that the State educational agency deems have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus to support the ability of such local educational agencies to continue to provide educational services to their students and to support the on-going functionality of the local educational agency;
  • Provide emergency support through grants to institutions of higher education serving students within the State that the Governor determines have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus to support the ability of such institutions to continue to provide educational services and support the on-going functionality of the institution; and
  • Provide support to any other institution of higher education, local educational agency, or education related entity within the State that the Governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students for authorized activities described in section 18003(d)(1) of this title or the Higher Education Act, the provision of child care and early childhood education, social and emotional support, and the protection of education-related jobs.

The Court concluded by declaring an injunction unnecessary, as they reasoned that “Governor McMaster, as a duly elected constitutional officer of this State, will adhere to this Court’s decision.”

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