PFPS and Allies Urge Federal Court to Uphold South Carolina’s Constitutional Ban on Public Funding of Private Schools

Public Funds Public Schools, along with the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) and the Advancement Project National Office (AP), filed an amici curiae brief in Bishop of Charleston v. Adams, urging the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina to uphold the state constitution’s no-aid clause prohibiting public funding of private schools.

The lawsuit, filed by lawyers at the pro-voucher Liberty Justice Center, alleges that the enactment of the no-aid clause was motivated by anti-religious and racial prejudices in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The District Court previously denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, concluding they were not likely to succeed in their claims. The parties have now filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

In 2020, PFPS and SEF filed an amicus brief in an earlier case, Adams v. McMaster, urging the South Carolina Supreme Court to strike down Governor Henry McMaster’s plan to use federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds to start a private school voucher program. The court invalidated the voucher program under the no-aid clause. The current case is yet another attempt to break down the constitutional barrier protecting funding for South Carolina’s public schools.

The amicus brief filed by PFPS, SEF, and AP in support of the state defendants in the Bishop of Charleston case explains that private school voucher programs prohibited by the no-aid clause were born directly out of racial animus in the mid-twentieth century and continue to exacerbate racial segregation in schools.

“As our brief explains, the claims of racial discrimination fly in the face of the fact that the no-aid clause actually blocks voucher programs that would maintain or exacerbate school segregation,” said Jessica Levin, ELC Senior Attorney and PFPS Director. “We urge the court to reject this attack on South Carolina’s constitutional safeguards for public schools.”

The amicus brief lays out the historical record showing that vouchers were a means for Southern states to resist court-ordered desegregation by abandoning public schools and then using public funds for private education. Between 1950 and 1965, private school enrollment in the South increased by over half-a-million students.

"The racist history of voucher programs is undeniable,” said Raymond Pierce, President and CEO of SEF. “Instead of carrying forward a policy with an ugly past and harmful present-day effects, we should focus on proven strategies for ensuring every child, no matter their background, has access to an excellent education.”

The amicus brief also presents evidence illustrating the continuing segregative effects of voucher programs, including research finding that vouchers are more likely to increase school segregation than to ameliorate it. Finally, the brief offers data showing that private schools today—including South Carolina’s—disproportionately serve white students, noting that voucher programs “provide direct public support to systems of racially segregated schools that state governments should not underwrite.”

“Although groups like the Liberty Justice Center claim vouchers will benefit students of color, research shows that voucher programs foster school segregation and underwrite discrimination,” said Katherine Dunn, Director of the AP National Office’s Opportunity to Learn program. “We’re helping defend South Carolina’s no-aid clause because we know that adequate and equitable public school funding is the way to ensure every child has access to a welcoming, high-quality school in their community.”

Related Stories:

South Carolina Supreme Court Strikes Down CARES Act-Funded Vouchers

PFPS and SEF Urge South Carolina Supreme Court to Strike Down Voucher Program

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