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By one vote, South Carolina’s “Republican-controlled” House of Representatives killed a universal school choice bill that would have provided expanded academic options for all parents and a lifeline for more than 100,000 children trapped in failing public schools.

The debate took less than half an hour – which is interesting when you consider that lawmakers spent two days earlier this month passing legislation that made the collard greens the state’s “official leafy vegetable.”

Priorities, priorities …

Lawmakers also refused to hold an “up-or-down” vote on the legislation itself, with the decisive vote being a measure to “table” the bill. The result was the same, though – a decisive defeat for parents and children and a resounding victory for the state’s education establishment, which once again used taxpayer-funded resources to lobby for the defeat of the legislation.

“Please email our Lexington County Delegation about this bill,” a local principal wrote during business hours from his taxpayer-funded computer. “Tell them NO.”

Like previous versions of parental choice, the bill defeated by the House would have permitted all South Carolina families to claim a state income tax credit for out-of-pocket tuition expenses. Homeschooling families would be permitted to claim a credit for instructional expenses, and non-profit organizations would provide low-income children with tuition scholarships. To fund those scholarships, both individuals and corporations would be permitted to claim a state tax credit for donations made to Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO’s) – IRS-recognized non-profits that would be required to spend 95 percent of their contributions on scholarships for low-income students.

(To read our exhaustive recap of this groundbreaking legislation, click here. To learn more about the bureaucratic forces that have successfully blocked the bill so far, click here. To see for yourself the undisputed failure of our state’s current status quo’s current approach to public education, click here).

Despite record funding increases in recent years, South Carolina’s public schools continue to fall further behind the rest of the nation. Our abysmal graduation rate has continued to decline – mirroring retreating SAT and stagnating ACT scores. Also, a recent report found that more than one-third of the nation’s 100 worst public schools are located in South Carolina.

Nonetheless, lawmakers have appropriated a record $11,754 per child in the current year’s budget– a figure that doesn’t include bond money and other local government spending on buildings.

The vote to table (i.e. kill) the legislation passed by a 60-59 margin, with sixteen “Republicans” joining Democrats in opposing the legislation. Those sixteen “Republicans” were:

Rita Allison
Joan Brady
Doug Brannon
Derham Cole
Danny Cooper
Mike Forrester
Marion Frye
Mike Gambrell
Davey Hiott
Jenny Horne
Steve Moss
Steve Parker
Gene Pinson
B.R. Skelton
Eddie Tallon
Bill Whitmire

Obviously, had just one of those lawmakers voted the other way we’d be looking at a victory for parents and children … not another defeat. That’s what makes Allison’s vote particularly troubling. Last weekend, she told Tea Party leaders in Spartanburg, S.C. that she would vote in favor of the legislation.

What happened? Somebody got to her …

Hopefully supporters of academic freedom will get in touch with these “Republicans.” And hopefully Republican voters will remind each of these lawmakers of what the GOP platform has to say about choice.

“We embrace the healthy competition that will result from a comprehensive school choice plan that includes the private sector, and believe such a system should be instituted from kindergarten through 12th grade,” the GOP platform notes. “In addition to improving public school performance, a system of school choice that includes tax credits, scholarship granting organizations and vouchers would offer more compassionate and better opportunities for all children in South Carolina.”

Parental choice has proven successful at raising achievement levels everywhere it has been implemented. No wonder Oklahoma and Indiana have implemented new parental choice programs this year, while leaders in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are moving to expand successful programs in those states.

It’s a shame South Carolina continues to ignore proven results – and the rising tide of support for parental choice – by continuing to pour more money into the same old failed status quo.

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