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Students with special educational needs will be eligible for privately funded tuition scholarships through a program included in this year’s South Carolina state budget.

The school choice provision allows for the creation of special charities, which award scholarships to students with intellectual and physical disabilities. Students may use the scholarships to attend the independent school of their family’s choosing. Donors to the “scholarship funding organizations” will be eligible for a credit toward their state income tax liability.

Each tax credit funded scholarship is limited to a maximum of $10,000 and each donor can claim a credit for no more than 60 percent of their state tax liability. Participating schools and scholarship organizations are held to a range of financial oversight and reporting requirements. Within the regular government schools, where the average student funding now exceeds $12,000, special needs students often require spending at twice the rate of traditional pupils.

“Parents –not government school bureaucrats– have the most information and the best motivation to make choices for their own sons and daughters,” said Neil Mellen, president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG). The statewide group promotes parental choice in education. “Even the so-called best government school classroom isn’t always the best match for each student seated in it. That’s especially true for students with special cognitive and physical challenges. ”

In addition to the scholarships for students with special needs, lawmakers also extended modest tax credits to classroom teachers at independent schools. The credit program, which roughly mirrors state policies for government school teachers, will help offset the out-of-pocket cost borne by teachers who buy classroom supplies. Lawmakers also choose to direct more than a third of the money they set aside for expansion of early education programs toward pre-kindergarten choice programs.

“The experience of the 21 other states with these programs is that parental choice in K-12 education saves taxpayers money and raises students achievement,” noted Mellen. “But the true appeal is that those most capable are again empowered to make enrollment decisions for their own children.”

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