State Sen. Robert Ford turned the unveiling of the 2009 S.C. Education Opportunity Act into a full-fledged parental choice revival this afternoon, injecting a fresh surge of adrenaline and intensity into a movement that has been gradually gaining momentum in recent years.

Blasting South Carolina’s worst-in-the-nation graduation rate, cellar-dwelling test scores and growing achievement gap between white and black students, Ford blistered the failed “one size fits all” system responsible for that record, at one point calling defenders of the current monopoly “cowards.”

Ford’s speech stopped traffic at the S.C. State House, as several lawmakers left the floor of their respective chambers to come into the lobby and watch his oration.

“Ford is amazing,” one State Senator text messaged us during the speech.

“Holy cow,” read another text message we received from a lawmaker. “Robert Ford (is) raising the roof!”

“Are you watching Ford???” yet another text messaged us.

In addition to enthusiastically offering his support for the legislation, Ford also shot back at certain black leaders who have criticized him as “selling out” for money from school choice supporters.

“I don’t give a damn about any money,” Ford thundered. “I’m doing this for the kids.”

Joining Ford was the bill’s primary sponsor in the House, Rep. Eric Bedingfield, and numerous co-sponsors including longtime supporter Tracy Edge. Also showing their support for the legislation were State Reps. Tim Scott and Nikki Haley.

The S.C. Education Opportunity Act features individual income tax credits for parents ranging anywhere from $2,400 to $4,800, as well as individual and corporate tax credits that will go to fund academic scholarships for low income students.

South Carolina public schools currently spend over $10,000 per child on average, a growing investment that is producing dwindling returns.

There is no voucher component to the legislation.

State Rep. Bakari Sellers said he was impressed by Ford’s speech and the media turnout for the event – which dwarfed recent press conferences at the State House, even those held by Gov. Mark Sanford – but said that he still wasn’t yet ready to sign onto the proposal.

Other black lawmakers we spoke with indicated they were seriously considering getting behind Ford.

Stay tuned for much, much more on today’s big unveiling …

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