This morning, Advance Carolina became the first organization authorized to issue scholarships as part of the state’s new school choice program. Advance Carolina is a Columbia-based charity supporting students with disabilities.

South Carolina’s new program, “Educational Credits for Exceptional Needs Children,” allows private taxpayers to fund grants for students with special learning needs who attend independent primary and secondary schools. Like dozens of parental choice programs in other states, the goal is to help all parents gain access to schools that meet the individual learning needs of their child.

Advance Carolina was created by leaders of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools (SCACS) to serve students with special educations needs at SCACS-affiliated schools .The non-profit also looks to serve exceptional needs students enrolling at other independent, non-sectarian private schools. Directors and staffers have decades of personal experience as Christian educators, and are eager to target help to students with the greatest academic, financial and familial need.

Both individual and corporate donors to Advance Carolina are eligible for state income tax credits. These contributors can to claim that dollar for dollar credit for up to 60 percent of their one-year tax liability. They are not allowed to designate specific student or school as beneficiary of the grant.

“Every morning, thousands of children across South Carolina head off to high quality, SCACS-affiliated schools,” explained Edward Earwood, the president of Advance Carolina.” Those schools are proud of their high standards, community engagement and sense of Christian mission. Many also offer highly specialized instruction for students facing special learning needs. The tax credit funded scholarships will help families seeking to enroll their children at SCACS’ and other independent schools who offer special programs for students with special needs. That will give parents –particularly those facing financial hardships– real choices.”

Advance Carolina was one of two aspiring SFOs to sign the “Access Opportunity Best Practices Pledge,” a voluntary pledge that includes a disclosure questionnaire about scholarship awarding practices. The other is the St. Thomas Aquinas SFO, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston. Access Opportunity South Carolina (AOSC) partnered with a coalition of South Carolina private schools and respected scholarship providers around the country to develop the pledge and questionnaire. The best practice pledge includes a commitment by the signatory SFOs to hold their employees, volunteers, and contractors to the same high standards the ECENC already requires of their Board of Directors. That includes a strict prohibition against felons, bankruptcy filers and the parents of grant recipients. Access Opportunity also provides parents and the public with details of the tax credit funded scholarship program and participating schools at its website.

“Holding to the Access Opportunity Pledge is just one more way we work to run an effective, efficient and ethical scholarship organization,” said Earwood. “It’s just common sense.”

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