Catholic schools say SAFE Grants would provide much-needed aid

Students at St. Jospeh in Anderson work on a STREAM project in November 2019.

Many South Carolina families who want a Catholic school education for their children are hopeful that SAFE Grants will soon be available.

Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grants, which were announced July 20 by Gov. Henry McMaster, were put on hold July 22 after a lawsuit was filed in Orangeburg County.

School officials and families are now waiting on a judge’s decision about the grant program that would help low-and middle-income families pay for tuition at participating independent schools. The program would make grants of up to $6,500 per student available to families for use toward tuition. Money for the grants would come from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund, allocated to the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orangeburg County Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson put a hold on the program after a lawsuit was filed by an Orangeburg County resident claiming that the SAFE grants violate the state constitution by using public funds for private or religious education. A hearing on the lawsuit will take place at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 at the Orangeburg County Courthouse.

Officials from the Diocese of Charleston said blocking the grants only does a disservice to families in need who want Catholic education for their children.

“This temporary injunction hurts low- and middle-income parents who want to continue sending their children to the school of their choice,” diocesan officials stated. “Every child deserves the opportunity to learn in the educational environment that best suits his or her needs, whether it is a public, private, or religious school.”

SAFE grants would be available to students from households with an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the poverty level. Check out this chart to see what that equates to for various family sizes and incomes.

A total of 2,500 grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, then distributed through a lottery after that to allocate the balance of available grant funds, as needed.

Principals at two schools in the diocese said they hope the grants will be upheld because they would provide much-needed help to families.

“Most of our students are on tuition assistance and a lot of their parents have lost jobs or been furloughed because of COVID-19,” said Haymee Giuliani, principal at St. Joseph School in Anderson. “These grants would really help these families who already go to our school as well as others who have been applying because they want a Catholic school environment for their kids.”

Giuliani said enrollment has increased recently at the school, going from 56 students in K4 through eighth grades last year to an anticipated 85 students for the 2020-21 school year.

Delores Gilliard, principal of St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia, said the grants would help both students currently attending her school and others in the area who could benefit from a Catholic education. She said she had already encouraged parents to begin applying for the grants.

The lawsuit does not halt the application process for SAFE grants. Parents can learn more about the program at https://mysceducation.org/school-subtype/safe-grants/