Hearing Held Regarding Funds Set to be Allocated From Emergency Fund for Private School Tuition

July 31, 2020

(WISTV)—A hearing was held on Wednesday in Orangeburg regarding a lawsuit filed to stop Gov. Henry McMaster from allocating money to help families pay for private school tuition.

Judge Edgar Dickson did not make a decision in the case Wednesday afternoon.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs and defendants in the case presented their arguments for nearly three hours.

The primary focus of their arguments surrounded the legality of using the money to help cover private school tuition. Public school advocates said what the Governor is doing is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for the defendants named on the suit, including the Governor and Palmetto Promise Institute, said since the money is not going directly to the private or religious schools this should be allowed.

On July 20, McMaster announced he would be using $32 million received in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds to provide one-time scholarships for students to attend private schools during the 2020-21 school year.

One week later, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against McMaster’s plan to allocate the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) grants.

Dr. Thomasena Adams, a resident of Orangeburg County, filed the lawsuit requesting the temporary restraining order. The lawsuit claims the state constitution says public funds cannot be given to religious or other private educational institutions. It also claims the GEER funds are public.

Skyler Huto, an attorney representing Adams said, “The choice to expend the money in this fashion is unconstitutional in two ways. First of all, it’s a direct benefit to private schools. Second, it shorts the state’s obligation to fund public schools in an adequate way.”

Palmetto Promise Institute President and CEO, Ellen Weaver said, “To the 10,000 parents who have shown interest in this program to date, we are going to fight for you. We are committed to making sure you’re getting the help you need so your student reaches their full potential this fall.”