(The Center Square) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced a coronavirus relief school-choice grant program Monday called Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE), designed to help families financially affected by the coronavirus pandemic send their children to a school of their choice.
The program will provide one-time, need-based grants of up to $6,500 to eligible mid- to low-income students attending private or independent schools in South Carolina.
“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,” McMaster said during the grant announcement in Greenville.
SAFE grants are modeled after grant and scholarship programs in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. About 5,000 grants will be awarded. The first 2,500 will be awarded on a first come, first served basis. Remaining funds will be awarded through a lottery.
To be eligible for a SAFE grant, students must be from households with incomes of less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level – less than $78,600 for a family of four. The scholarship will be applicable toward tuition at any private or independent school in the state.
SAFE grants are funded through federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and come out of the state’s pool of $48 million allocated for emergency education relief.
“I’m proud to be here today as a mom of three uniquely different children who learned differently,” Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette said at the announcement event. “I think parents need the power to make a school choice. Nobody is better qualified to make decisions about the education of their children than parents.”
Several parents with children who will benefit from SAFE grants spoke at the announcement. Natalie Hudson, whose children attend St. Joseph Catholic School in Anderson, said the grants will keep her children at the school.
“We have definitely battled working two jobs to keep them there,” Hudson said. “With this program we’ll be able to keep them there.”
The program draws on Education Scholarship Act legislation that was gaining bi-partisan support in the South Carolina Senate before it recessed because of the pandemic. McMaster said he hopes this program will pave the way for additional school-choice programs in South Carolina.
“We hope this will show the feasibility and productivity of this kind of system,” McMaster said.