Institute for Justice Calls on South Carolina Supreme Court to Reject Constitutional Challenge to Scholarship Program

Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · August 14, 2020

Arlington, Va.—The Institute for Justice (IJ) today filed a brief in Adams v. McMaster, a case challenging a new South Carolina program to provide educational choice grants to allow families to defray the costs of sending children to private or religious schools. In its brief, IJ reminds the South Carolina Supreme Court that its state constitution was amended to allow for funding to students to independently choose from non-religious and religious options.

“This case is simple: the plaintiffs are challenging these new scholarships based on an old interpretation of the South Carolina Constitution, which has since been amended,” said IJ Senior Attorney Tim Keller. “As it stands, the constitution allows the state to establish a school choice program that lets families choose between religious and non-religious options.”

In July, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced the creation of the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grants program, which will provide one-time, federally funded grants to students to pay for tuition costs at private schools located in South Carolina. Following announcement of the program, a retired South Carolina schoolteacher and a taxpayer filed a lawsuit alleging that the SAFE program violates a provision of the South Carolina Constitution, which states, “No money shall be paid from public funds nor shall the credit of the State or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

The challengers of the program rely on a 1971 South Carolina Supreme Court decision. However, in 1973, South Carolina amended its constitution by eliminating the ban on “indirect” funding of private educational institutions. Under the challenger’s interpretation of the state’s constitution, not only would the SAFE program be struck down, such a decision would have dire implications for programs like the South Carolina Higher Education Excellence Enhancement Program.

Since its founding over a quarter-century ago, IJ has successfully defended school choice programs across the country, including three times at the U.S. Supreme Court. IJ is currently representing families in Tennessee seeking to protect a newly established scholarship program and challenging a discriminatory scholarship program in Maine.