Gov. McMaster announces SAFE grants for low income families

July 20, 2020

PPI President and CEO Ellen Weaver is quoted in a ABC Columbia article on the SAFE grant program.

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WOLO/WYFF) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster was in Greenville Monday to announce the creation of the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) grants.

McMaster said the one-time, need-based grants of up to $6,500 will help or subsidize the 2020-21 tuition for eligible students at participating private, parochial or independent schools in South Carolina.

“This is a great program. It will open a lot of doors, it will satisfy a lot of needs, and it will help educate a lot of children,” said McMaster.

Approximately 5,000 grants will be funded.

The one-time grants are funded through the coronavirus relief bill.

“We know that about the 2020 enrollment for our private and independent schools is estimated to decline about 10 to 20% because of the coronavirus. Parents just can’t afford it,” said McMaster. “There are a lot of people, families working two and three jobs in order to send their children to school. And as Dr. Priest mentioned, they’re already paying taxes to support those public schools. So this is a way that we can support this private schools and independent schools and see to it that we are educating these children.”

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.

“Some work two jobs, some only have one car for the family, they really make sacrifices to get their child the education that they feel is the best fit. And COVID has really impacted their family budgets,” said Ellen Weaver, President and CEO of Palmetto Promise Institute. “COVID hasn’t discriminated between its impact on the education of children in our state, whether they learn in a traditional public or an independent school. And neither should we. Every student who needs support and help, deserves our support and help.”

“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.”

McMaster explained that “during this pandemic, with so much uncertainty and anxiety facing families, a child’s displacement from the school they love and thrive at could have devastating consequences to their learning and emotional progress.”

A news release from McMaster’s office said SAFE grants will provide critical support for working, low-income families impacted financially by the pandemic. It said SAFE grants will ensure that these students can access an education of their choice.

“Since my time in the State Senate and now as a U.S. Congressman, I have fought to bring education resources and decision making as close to the child as possible because I believe every child in South Carolina deserves a quality education regardless of their family’s income level. SAFE Grants will provide enrolled students with the resources and choices in their education to make this a reality,” Congressman William Timmons said. “I applaud Governor McMaster for this new program which will benefit many South Carolina students.”

“As a long-time advocate for school choice, I’m thrilled to see the SAFE Grants program implemented in South Carolina, Congressman Jeff Duncan said. “I supported the CARES Act in Congress and am proud that Governor McMaster has decided to allocate some of the money towards a new school choice program. Limiting the number of educational opportunities made available to our children is a complete disservice, but providing the opportunity of choice is common sense. The SAFE Grants program will give parents the chance to choose a learning environment that best fits their child’s needs and allow them to do so at an affordable cost. School choice is especially vital as South Carolina is moving to reopen schools this fall. Parents should always feel empowered to choose a school that best fits their child’s individual needs, especially in the midst of a pandemic. I thank Governor McMaster for his leadership on this issue and look forward to seeing the SAFE Grants program come to fruition in South Carolina.”

In response to the grant program, the teacher advocacy group SC for Ed says this money from the CARES Act could have been allocated differently.

“Our initial reaction was that it’s disingenuous. When you’re talking about how desperately in need our school districts are of funding to be able to bring things like HVAC up to code, and other building necessities,” said Nicole Walker, SC for Ed Board Member and local school teacher.

SC for Ed states that public funds should not go to private schools.

“We don’t really feel like this is about kids being able to go back to schools. And, you know, that’s a worry,” said Walker.