Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

South Carolina’s public fund administrator said it has been advised to halt federal coronavirus aid to private higher education institutions after a S.C. Supreme Court ruling that stopped governor-directed aid to reimburse tuition at private K-12 schools. 

S.C. Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, to discuss halting  some of the $115 million set aside by state lawmakers from federal money for state, local government and independent college and university expenditures.

“The ultimate conclusion of our review and the opinion of outside counsel is that Admin must refrain from disbursing money to independent colleges and universities under the Act (154) without further judicial direction,” Adams said in the letter. 

Act 154 directed federal aid from the CARES Act through the state’s administration department. 

The move comes on the heels of the S.C. Supreme Court ruling last week that Gov. Henry McMaster’s allocation of $32 million in federal funding for one-time tuition grants for students attending private K-12 schools. The court ruled that the allocation violated the state’s constitution in Article XI, Section 4

Orangeburg Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto, whose son litigated the case against the governor’s vouchers, said that if the department stops the aid, it will affect about $12 million slated for private higher-ed institutions.

With the Department of Administration reviewing implications of the ruling, now come questions of other state funds going to private institutions. But those may also have to come in the form of court challenges, Hutto said.

“The Supreme Court doesn’t just go out and hand out advisory opinions,” Hutto said. Advisory opinions offer guidance for state entities on interpreting law and policies.

One example of state funds regularly being allocated to private institutions is state education lottery funds going to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), eight out of nine of which are private. Since 2003, about $52.5 million of the Higher Education Excellence Enhancement Program has gone to private institutions, according to Senate Finance documents. 

“It’s the same constitutional provision at play,” Hutto said. “It’s a different issue and it’s related, but someone would have to challenge that if they want to challenge it.”