The Palmetto State Teachers Association is disappointed in Governor McMaster’s decision to direct $32 million in federal GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) funding to the new “SAFE grant” scholarship program. At a time where South Carolina’s public schools are faced with unprecedented operational challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, these funds could be better used by ensuring our public schools have as many resources as possible to ensure a safe return to in-person instruction when public health conditions make it possible to do so.
As an organization, the Palmetto State Teachers Association strongly supports public school choice, so long as the schools receiving public funding are required to meet the same requirements for accountability and accessibility as our state’s public schools. However, today’s action by the Governor will allow federal public dollars to flow to independent schools that are not subject to public accountability standards. These schools are also not accessible to all South Carolina students, as they can deny admission to students based on criteria such as a student’s religion, sexual orientation, or disability status. The federal tax dollars used for the SAFE grant program are paid by all South Carolinians, meaning those dollars should only be used for schools that are open to all of our students.
The Palmetto State Teachers Association has traditionally advocated against the establishment of any voucher program in South Carolina, and while the SAFE grant program is only for one year, it still has the hallmarks of a voucher system that diverts public dollars from public schools. Our state’s allocation of GEER funding could be better served supporting schools and educational programs that are truly public and for all South Carolinians.