State bill would establish school voucher-like program in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – On the second day of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed a controversial education bill that would give families state money to send their children to private schools .

A Senate education subcommittee heard public comment on Wednesday on Section 935, which would establish college savings accounts, also known as scholarship accounts, similar to school voucher programs in other states. other states.

The testimony lasted nearly two hours, with most morning speakers urging senators to stop the bill from moving forward, saying it would harm South Carolina students and teachers, the majority of whom attend or works in public schools.

“If passed, it would further degrade a struggling public education system, and as the system crumbles, we will see young people suffer,” teacher Todd Scholl said.

Through education savings accounts, the state would give families money each term to pay primarily for tuition at non-public schools, as well as other eligible expenses, such as textbooks, tutoring services and examination fees.

Families would receive an amount equal to the state average of the amount public schools receive from the state per student.

“When funds are withdrawn from the public sector and given to private schools, students enrolled in public schools will, in many cases, be denied quality academic programs,” said retired teacher Marvin Byers. .

Under the bill, there would be income limits to determine family eligibility.

In the program’s first year, which would be the 2022-23 school year if lawmakers pass the bill this session, 5,000 students in kindergarten through third grade would be eligible to enroll. The number of eligible students and classes would increase over the next three school years, and in the fifth year there would be no limit to the number of K-12 students who could enroll, as long as that the General Assembly allocate funds to Encourage them.

A South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office tax impact study estimated at that time, with no limit on the number of students participating in college savings accounts, that it would cost the state more than $2.9 billions of dollars.

“The actual reduction in local revenue will depend on the number of students participating in the program and the district’s public funding. State funding per student in fiscal year 2019-2020 ranged from $5,089 to $11,940,” the report details.

Opponents have argued that the program would take essential funds away from public schools.

Among the opposing groups are the South Carolina School Boards Association and three teacher advocacy organizations, the Palmetto State Teachers Association, the South Carolina Education Association and SCforEd.

“Education Scholarship Account vouchers are untested, unaccountable and unaffordable. They are dangerous to our public school system here,” said Colleen O’Connell of the South Carolina Education Association.

Fewer people spoke out in favor of the bill on Wednesday, saying it would help more students and families by providing them with more educational opportunities.

“It gives parents the freedom to choose the best learning institution for the child’s individual academic needs,” said Haymee Giuliani, principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Anderson.

“South Carolina would benefit from allowing free market principles to raise the level of education provided in our state,” added supporter Patrick Conley. “This legislation is good for our state.”

The bill also has major support in the State House, with Governor Henry McMaster backing its passage.

In his executive budget, the governor asked lawmakers to set aside $20 million for the start of the education savings account program, if lawmakers pass the bill this session.

“These accounts provide the opportunity for working or low-income parents to choose the type of educational and instructional environment that best suits the unique needs of their children,” McMaster said.

Senators did not vote on moving the bill forward at their Wednesday meeting, with Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, saying they would try to schedule another subcommittee meeting next week to discuss the bill before voting.

Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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