There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on the way our country delivers education. And while Louisianans are certainly no strangers to national disasters that upend normal life, our state has also demonstrated the importance of innovating in the face of adversity.
Consider the case of Hurricane Katrina. Following the storm’s destruction, Louisiana found an opportunity to change the education status quo and revived New Orleans’ public schools. Like Louisiana post-Katrina, the damaging effects of COVID-19 are now leading South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster to seize a new opportunity to improve education – getting money directly into the hands of parents.
Last week, Gov. McMaster announced his Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grant Plan, which will assist K-12 students in attending one of South Carolina’s independent schools. The SAFE Grant program is a one-time grant made available to working class and low-income families whose household adjusted gross income is at least 300% lower than the federal poverty level. Eligible families can receive up to $6,500 per student, so they can send their children to schools that best fit their needs.
The program was modeled after successful scholarship programs in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. States across the country should look to South Carolina as a case study for innovative ways to utilize the CARES Act funding that was delegated for governors to use on education. In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards pushed the federal dollars to school districts across the state, many of which are now amending reopening plans and pushing back start dates. During a time when parents are growing increasingly uncertain about when their students will be able to resume learning, every state leader should be looking to empower parents with choice options.
South Carolina is leading by example, using funds responsibly to directly benefit students and parents impacted by COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are always groups fighting to uphold the status quo, even when it comes at the expense of students’ educations. This week a judge placed a restraining order to temporarily block Gov. McMasters’ program from being implemented and helping families. The judge relied on South Carolina’s “Blaine Amendment,” which many argue the are state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th Century anti-Catholic bigotry. Lower courts in Montana also relied on that state’s Blaine Amendments in a recent similar ruling, but the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, delivering a landmark victory for school choice advocates.
As the court battle over the case in South Carolina continues, the education of the states’ students is being held hostage. Louisiana can learn from Gov. McMasters’ efforts and provide direct relief to parents and students by properly allocating CARES Act dollars. Until then, Louisianans will continue footing the bill for an education system that simply isn’t educating.