S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley made her most definitive statement as governor in support of universal parental choice legislation this week.
“Parents should be able to decide where they send their kids to school,” Haley said. “So, I have said the second they can get that bill to my desk, I absolutely will sign it.”
“That bill” is the Educational Opportunity Act, sponsored by S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley). Also co-sponsoring the legislation is S.C. Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston), who courageously withstood the slings and arrows of the state’s education establishment two years ago when he stepped forward to help lead this “new civil rights struggle.”
Haley’s statement in support of choice – and this specific bill – came in the form of a video released on her YouTube channel.
Here’s the clip (with Haley’s comment on the legislation coming at the 00:49 mark):
Good for Haley …
South Carolina’s Republican governor – who co-sponsored this legislation during her time in the General Assembly – is offering her unambiguous support for a proposal that represents a key plank of the GOP platform.
“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.”
Like previous versions of parental choice, Grooms’ bill would permit 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.
In addition to funding reform, school district consolidation and other long-overdue changes to our state’s failed status quo, universal school choice is an idea whose time has come in South Carolina. In fact, its time actually came years ago – but “GOP” legislative leaders have foolishly adopted a ‘Mo Money, faux accountability approach instead.
Obviously, the results of that approach have been disastrous.
According to the latest data, our state’s overall graduation rate remains among the worst in the nation – improving by a meager 1.5 percent over the last decade (one of the worst percentage improvements in the entire country). That’s consistent with our rural graduation rate (which currently ranks dead last in the country) as well as our declining SAT and stagnating ACT scores.
Meanwhile, choice continues to produce solid results everywhere it has been implemented.
According to a new report from the University of Minnesota, participants in the Milwaukee school choice program boast graduation rates that are 18 percent higher than those of students in Milwaukee’s public schools. Also the program, which now features more than 20,000 participants, “costs” taxpayers $6,442 per student – less than half of the $15,034 per student spent at Milwaukee’s public schools.
Choice would also save the state money, as evidenced by Florida’s successful program – which state auditors say has produced $1.49 in education savings for every dollar of school choice tax credits. More importantly, public school students in Florida have seen significant increases in reading and math scores, as well as a rise in the state’s on-time graduation rate.
Successful parental choice programs are also up and running in Pennsylvania and Arizona, and this week the Indiana House of Representatives passed a sweeping choice initiative.
It is time for S.C. lawmakers to live up to the tenets of their party’s platform and get this bill to Haley’s desk …