ORANGEBURG, SC (FOX Carolina) A judge in South Carolina has temporarily blocked the decision by Governor Henry McMaster to use millions of dollars of federal COVID-19 aid to help families afford private school tuition for the upcoming school year. 

Governor McMaster recently announced the creation of the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) grant program, which is to be funded by an allotment of $32 million dollars of Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds. 

The program can provide up to a $6,500 grant per student, and help approximately 5,000 students in South Carolina. 

According to a court filing, Orangeburg attorney Skyler Hutto argues that the governor's plan is in violation of a portion of the state constitution that prevents the government from funding private or religious education.

Orangeburg County Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson granted the request for a temporary restraining order on July 22, 2020 until arguments can be heard in court. 

Attorneys are expected to be heard the week of July 27, concerning whether or not the order will become permanent. 

Communications director for the governor's office, Brian Symmes, released the following statement in response to the temporary order: 

Working families in South Carolina are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic and every parent should have the opportunity to choose the educational instruction that best suits their child’s needs. Federal coronavirus relief cannot, and should not, be denied to any citizen in need.

The South Carolina Independent School Association also commented on the injunction, saying any individual has the right to question how the government allocates money. 

As proud Americans and South Carolinians, SCISA acknowledges that we are a society of laws, policies, and procedures. Any individual has the right to question how the government allocates money, and our association will respect the process by which these types of decisions are made. SCISA also respects the governor’s response to a pandemic that did not discriminate in its harm to both the public and private sectors of our state. The people of South Carolina may disagree over the GEER Funding allocation, but we should never have a disagreement over what is best for children.

Sen. Tim Scott took to Twitter to lambast the lawsuit:

Natalie Hudson is a mom of three kids in Anderson and sends her children to Saint Joseph's Catholic School. She says the grant funds could really help her children not only stay at school, but ease a financial burden for the family.

"It's defintely been challenging at times--like I've had to work 2 jobs. My husband, being in the reserves and also having a civilian job--it's a lot of money out of our pockets," she told us. "I don't usually ask for help, but when something like this is being offered, I want to take the opportunity to utilize it."

Hudson has no qualms about public school, and says all schools should get a boost because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, she still thinks private schools in South Carolina should get funding to help families who want to send their children to those campuses. If Saint Joseph's can't get the funds, Hudson says she'll do what she can to keep her kids in.

"What it boils down to--is if I have to get a 3rd job to keep my kids in private school--I will do that," she said.

Kathy Maness is the executive director of the Palmetta State Teachers' Association, and says the funds could be better used to solve a major divide that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

"One thing we saw in this pandemic was the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. And we have a lot of have-nots in South Carolina," she said. "At public schools--we take everybody--we cannot pick and choose."

Maness says the funds themselves aren't the problem, nor are private schools. However, she feels directing the grants to private schools amidst a pandemic is tone deaf.

"If South Carolina was fully funding education, if we weren't in this pandemic crisis--I'm OK with you doing that," she said.

Stay with FOX Carolina for updates. 

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