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Acknowledging South Carolina’s deteriorating academic performance and the need to inject some real market-based accountability into the system, one of the nation’s largest, most influential advocacy groups is joining the push for expanded parental choice.

FreedomWorks – a national group of conservative activists with more than 20,000 Palmetto State members – has made South Carolina’s school choice legislation one of their top national priorities in 2012.

And not a minute too soon, based on the latest data …

According to the organization, South Carolina’s parental choice bill “would help empower parents with greater opportunity to choose their child’s school through education tax credits.”

“It would further enable children to escape failing schools and take meaningful steps towards curbing waste, fraud, and abuse that the state’s educational bureaucracy has perpetrated for so many years,” the organization’s call to action states.

The new legislation – sponsored by S.C. Rep. Eric Bedingfield (R-Greenville) – includes the same tax credit and scholarship provisions as previous parental choice bills – as well as an additional scholarship program for students of all  income levels with learning disabilities. It also includes a $200 tax credit for public school teachers who are forced to purchase their own school supplies thanks to the rampant inefficiency of the state-run system.

There are now six states with parental tax credits for school choice, eight states with scholarships funded through tax credits and seven states with programs for special needs kids. These programs are all widely-popular with the only constituency whose opinions really matter as far as we’re concerned: parents.

The programs also save taxpayer money and raise student achievement, even among the kids who don’t participate.

Parental choice legislation – which failed by one vote in the S.C. House of Representatives a year ago – couldn’t be passed soon enough.

Last month, it was revealed that 76 percent of South Carolina public schools (831 out of 1,037) failed to make adequate yearly progress during the 2010-11 academic year (compared to 48 percent nationally). This abysmal performance is consistent with South Carolina’s plummeting SAT scores and atrocious graduation rate.

While the state’s educrat establishment blames so-called “budget cuts” for the deteriorating performance, taxpayers are actually shelling out a record $11,754 per child on public “education” during the current fiscal year – not counting income from local bond revenue, investments, and transfers between funds and government agencies.

This mountain of new money comes on top of back-to-back years of record education funding (click here and here for those totals). Not only that, school districts are ripping off even more money from local businesses thanks to an ill-advised 2006 “tax swap …” even as they’ve squirreled away more than $760 million into their “reserve” accounts.

FreedomWorks – founded by Former US House Majority Leader Dick Armey– has one of the nation’s largest and most aggressive networks of activists and supporters. The group has spent years building contacts and relationships with local party chairs, precinct managers, Tea Party activists, college Republicans, grassroots regulars, and so on. This aggressive activist push has been complemented by an equally aggressive online and social media effort.

The fact that a group FreedomWorks has chosen to weigh in so aggressively in South Carolina is clearly due to the narrow defeat of last year’s legislation.