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(Columbia) A plan to help low-income and disabled students attend the school of their family’s choosing moved closer to becoming law today, emerging from the Senate Finance Committee by a voice vote.

The proposal passed the House early this year and offers tax credit-funded scholarships to low-income and disabled students whose parents elect to send them to private schools or transfer them between different public schools.

House Bill 4894 is closely based on similar programs already operating in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona. There are two-dozen states that now provide some type of program to expand choices among different types of K-12 schools. This includes North Carolina, which introduced a program last year. Modest deductions are also offered in the South Carolina bill to parents paying tuition or homeschooling costs out of pocket.

The bill has solicited major support from a range of politicians outside of the State Legislature. U.S. Senator Jim DeMint specifically called on members of the Committee to quickly pass the bill on a video posted online last week. The State’s Superintendent of Education Mick Zais and Treasurer, Curtis Loftis, have also spoken out in favor of the legislation, noting that it will help those students whose parents have the fewest educational options. All four of South Carolina’s Republican Congressmen also endorsed the proposal.

Lobbyists representing the School Boards Association (SCSBA) and School Administrators Associations (SCASA) expressed their distaste for the idea, a position they’ve held for nearly a decade. They speculated that the bill could damage education in the state. Parental choice proponent Senators Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) and David Thomas (R-Greenville) hotly contested that claim at a subcommittee hearing last in early May. “The facts don’t bear that out,” Thomas insisted.

“Parents who are happy with their traditional public schools can stay put. Parents who feel their children aren’t being fully served can choose a more appropriate school,” explained Senator Grooms, who is also one of the bill’s sponsors. “Clearly this is a good thing for the student and the family either way.”

The bill must now receive a simple majority of votes on the Senate floor in order to be sent to the Governor for her signature.


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