Commentary: SAFE Grants provide peace of mind for worried parents

August 25, 2020

PPI Policy Manager Lawson Mansell’s Op-Ed was featured in The Post & Courier. 

Every day there’s a new headline about whether schools will reopen. For families all across our state, this is making what life will look like this fall extremely difficult to predict.

You don’t know whether your kids will be in school buildings, at home doing distance learning, or learning in some hybrid in between.

What you do know, however, is that you always want the best for your children: the best health care, the best home environment and the best education.

For too long however, an excellent education has been out of reach for many South Carolinians. And the pandemic has added a whole new layer of concerns for families.

I recently spoke with Annie Pelzer, who is the caretaker and legal guardian of her two grandchildren, Makayla and Austin, who attend Hammond School. Makayla and Austin’s parents died in 2013, so Annie and her husband, with the help of financial aid and personal financial sacrifices, were able to keep their grandkids in the school they loved.

“In the recent years, every hour worked and dime received between their grandfather and myself has gone to ensure consistency in their education,” Annie wrote, “We made it our mission to provide the best education for them that would set them up for a life that would not be determined by their early childhood trauma and hurt.”

But because of COVID-19, their income has taken a significant hit, and they say they will no longer be able to afford tuition.

“Makayla and Austin are some of the brightest of their peers and are more culturally aware and are headed in the right direction,” she said, “We need help. I love this school for my babies, and they love it too much for any of us to give up on them.

The Pelzers are one of many South Carolina families facing a similar dilemma.

But thanks to the bold actions of Gov. Henry McMaster, South Carolina has a new program that will help meet the educational needs of working families suffering from the economic hardships of COVID-19.

The program, Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grants, will mean urgently needed help for an estimated 5,000 students from low- to moderate-income South Carolina families, providing them with the financial resources to continue their education journey without continued disruption.

COVID-19 hasn’t discriminated between the learning and health of public and private school students, and neither should we. Congress clearly intended all students to benefit from these resources, wherever they learn.

While public schools are benefiting from the lion’s share, around $500 million or 95%, of CARES Act emergency education funds appropriated to-date, every student’s education has been impacted, and every student deserves our help. This includes the 50,000 children who attend private schools.

Gov. McMaster should be applauded for his bold leadership in creating this needs-based program to support students wherever, and however, they learn.

At the end of the day, SAFE Grants will provide peace of mind for families like the Pelzers who are struggling to balance family budgets and do the very best they can for the future of their children.

Lawson Mansell is the policy content manager for Palmetto Promise Institute. Learn more about SAFE Grants at