Fact Check: 2020 SC Education Funding

August 6, 2020

Private: Lawson Mansell

Policy Content Manager

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On July 20, 2020, Governor Henry McMaster announced SAFE Grants, a program designed to provide low- and moderate-income families who have been impacted by COVID an opportunity to remain in private school or attend a private school of their choice.

According to the Governor’s Office, SAFE Grants has been awarded $32 million to provide approximately 5,000 students up to $6,500 towards tuition at a South Carolina independent school. These grants are designed in part to prevent public schools from being overwhelmed with private school students whose parents would no longer be able to pay private school tuition due to COVID.

Following the announcement, it became clear that a number of South Carolinians had no point of reference for the relative meaning of a $32 million expenditure. Some even called SAFE Grants “an assault” on South Carolina’s public education system.

So, to set the record straight, we offer these visuals to put $32 million in perspective.

CARES Spending. Governor McMaster spent a $32 million portion of his discretionary $48 million GEER Fund on students attending private school. Meanwhile, over $500 million has already been spent on COVID relief for South Carolina’s public schools.

To break it down another way: private school students make up around 6% of SC’s total K-12 population (50,000 out of 830,000). Governor McMaster has allocated around 5% of total education related COVID relief funding ($32M of $591.5M) to those private students through SAFE Grants.

Total Annual Spending. Another comparison worth making is the $32 million up against the $10.4 billion South Carolina is estimated to spend on public education this year. (Remember: $1 billion is $1,000 million.)

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Spending Trend. In fact, our spending on public education in South Carolina has been rising consistently each year since 2012. We’re currently spending over $14,000 per-student in real dollars.

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Specific New Investments. In 2019, lawmakers invested nearly $300 million new dollars in public K-12 education, including teacher pay raises, state aid to classrooms (formerly known as Base Student Cost, now equals $3,889 per student), and an infrastructure plan to invest in rural school districts.

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Per Capita vs. Neighbors. So how does all this spending compare to our neighboring states? We’re more than competitive, spending the 3rd most of Southern states according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with only Virginia and Louisiana spending more than the Palmetto State.

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The Bottom Line. COVID-19 has had an impact on all families, and all families deserve relief. As options for families become more limited due to school closures and delays, we’re proud to stand with Governor McMaster to reduce pressure on public schools by providing low- to moderate income families the education opportunities they need. The facts clearly show that $32 million in needs-based emergency support for private school students is proportional and appropriate.