Op-Ed: Gov. McMaster deserves praise for his SAFE Grants plan to support SC students

July 30, 2020

Jim DeMint

Founding Chairman, Greenville

PPI Founding Chairman Jim Demint’s Op-Ed featured in The State.

The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 have been overwhelming. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs or been forced to close businesses they have poured their lives into. Even worse, thousands of Americans have lost their lives.

It is an unspeakable tragedy.

There are devastating educational impacts as well.

Our youngest citizens have experienced severe disruptions in their learning; many public and private school students fell behind in the spring and have slid even further this summer.

That’s why I’m so pleased that Gov. Henry McMaster has taken bold action to help all young South Carolinians recover academically, no matter where they go to school.

The largest body of federal CARES funds flowing into South Carolina has gone to public schools. But Gov. McMaster has cast a small but significant lifeline for low- and middle-income private school families as well with his Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grants program.

This lifeline will be especially helpful to special needs and at-risk children.

With independent schools across the state facing unprecedented struggles, this pilot program provides working families facing COVID-related economic hardship with resources to continue their independent school education without disruption.

SAFE Grants provide tuition assistance to students whose household income is 300% or less of the federal poverty limit.

While the students and their needs are our primary concern, SAFE Grants will serve other CARES Act purposes as well.

According to a survey of South Carolina independent schools conducted by the Palmetto Promise Institute earlier this spring, 20% of the responding schools have already laid off administration, teachers or staff.

The same survey also indicates that schools were projecting significant drops in enrollment, meaning the job losses could get much worse; in fact, some schools may not able to reopen at all.

These schools, as Gov. McMaster has identified, are essential to the children, families and communities of South Carolina.

If even a fraction of the 50,000 students they serve were to suddenly enroll in public schools, the surge would easily overwhelm many COVID-challenged schools.

SAFE Grants will also mean peace of mind and one less worry for parents struggling to balance family budgets and do the very best they can for their child’s future.

I passionately believe ­­­— and research shows — that under any circumstance and in any situation, outcomes improve and kids do better when parents are given the opportunity to choose the best school for their children.

We should always stand for the right of every American family to choose where their children go to school: public, charter, private, virtual or homeschooled.

By building on a track record of success in a dozen states around the nation, Gov. McMaster rightly recognizes that education choice is not a luxury only to be considered when times are good; rather, it is a lifeline that can quite literally open opportunity and save lives.

SAFE Grants are exactly the kind of idea that will ensure all children have the resources to fight back against COVID-19’s threat to their educational futures.

I commend Gov. McMaster for his vision and bold leadership.

Jim DeMint represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 2005 to 2013 after serving three terms as a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. DeMint is currently the chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute.