COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) – A proposal to give South Carolina families state dollars to send their children to private schools is now up for debate at the State House.
The plan would create “education scholarship accounts” similar to a school voucher program that some other states offer.
Families would receive $6,000 per student.
That figure would be adjusted each year, based on how much money is allocated in the state budget per pupil.
Supporters say this is state money put to good use – to provide access to a better education for more of South Carolina’s children.
But as the debate in the Senate stretches into next week, it’s clear not everyone agrees.
“It focuses on children who do not have the educational opportunities that so many other children have. This bill is targeted to poor kids and kids with special education needs. That’s the limit,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
While many more kids could qualify for an account by being eligible for Medicaid or having an individualized education program, the program would eventually be capped at $15,000 a student.
“Some of the boogeyman stuff you’re going to hear is that all the children are going to flee the public school system, and it’s going to bankrupt them,” Massey said. “Well, one, we’re not taking the money from them, but secondly, if you look at what’s going on around other parts of the country; that’s just not at all the case.”
Families would be able to use the money on school tuition – along with other allowable expenses, including books, fees and transportation.
Sen. Mike Fanning – who stood at the lectern for all of Thursday’s debate – argues this would provide the illusion of choice – without real choice.
“If the tuition’s $20,000, and the Medicaid-eligible poor kid gets a $6,000 voucher, the only way they can go — now, unless there’s some goodwill, and people are throwing money around — the only way they can go is if the family can make up the difference,” said Fanning, D-Fairfield.
The bill’s funding source was also changed so that it wouldn’t take money out of public schools – which had been a non-starter for teacher advocacy groups.
“The school districts are not going to lose any money,” Massey said.
But opponents still contend the around $100 million that could be distributed at maximum participation would be better spent on public schools themselves.
“They could reduce class sizes,” Fanning said. “They could offer more opportunities for the students that they currently have, add to the program offering that they do.”
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