Court Rejects Attack on South Carolina Ban on Public Funding of Private Schools
The U.S. District Court for South Carolina has rejected the latest attempt by pro-voucher lawyers to tear down the South Carolina Constitution’s “no-aid clause” prohibiting public funding of private schools.
The case, Bishop of Charleston v. Adams, was filed by the Liberty Justice Center, a legal organization involved in numerous lawsuits to advance private school vouchers, including defending Tennessee and North Carolina’s unconstitutional voucher laws in those states’ courts.
The South Carolina federal district court had previously denied the Bishop of Charleston plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, stating they were unlikely to succeed in their claims.
In the most recent decision, denying the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to the State, the court concluded the plaintiffs failed to prove the no-aid clause had either a discriminatory intent or impact based on religion, and that they “fare[d] no better” in claiming the no-aid clause was motivated by racial prejudice. Thus, the court concluded the clause does not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Public Funds Public Schools, along with the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) and the Advancement Project National Office, filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the State defendants’ summary judgment motions. The amicus brief explained that private school voucher programs prohibited by the no-aid clause were born directly out of racial animus in the mid-twentieth century, as a means for Southern states to resist court-ordered desegregation by abandoning public schools and using public funds for private education instead. The amicus brief also presented evidence on the continuing segregative effects of voucher programs and data showing that private schools today—including South Carolina’s—disproportionately serve white students.
The Bishop of Charleston case is only the latest attempt to break down the constitutional barrier protecting funding for South Carolina’s public schools. In 2020, PFPS and SEF filed an amicus brief in Adams v. McMaster, urging the South Carolina Supreme Court to stop Governor Henry McMaster’s plan to use federal Covid-19 emergency relief funds to establish a voucher program. The court invalidated that program under the no-aid clause.
Frustrated by state constitutional provisions designed to protect limited public school funding, pro-voucher lawyers have resorted to filing numerous lawsuits. For example, a federal district court in Michigan is currently considering an attack on that state’s no-aid clause by the legal arm of the pro-voucher Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
The Bishop of Charleston case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. PFPS and its amicus partners remain committed to supporting the State in its defense of the no-aid provision, a crucial firewall against education privatization in South Carolina.