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Lawsuit Pits SC School Choice Advocates Against Each Other

“Smear campaign” alleged …

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A lawsuit filed in Richland County, South Carolina is alleging a literal “vast, right wing conspiracy” involving a host of actors associated with the school choice movement in the Palmetto State.

The alleged objective of this conspiracy?  Shuttering a privately administered school choice provider and transferring authority over its scholarship funding organizations to a state agency – allegedly costing the plaintiff in the case millions of dollars.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants in the action – Ellen Weaver and the Palmetto Promise Institute – are engaged in an ongoing effort to spread “fraudulent” information to state lawmakers, media outlets and other interested parties as part of an ongoing effort to tarnish the reputation of the scholarship provider.

The lawsuit was filed by Jeff Davis, a Greenville, S.C. attorney and businessman.  Davis is representing himself in the matter – which was filed last fall in the S.C. fifth judicial circuit.  Davis and his wife, Olga Lisinksa, are the driving forces behind Palmetto Kids FIRST – a scholarship funding organization that was effectively shut down several years ago when oversight of the Palmetto State’s fledgling special needs choice program was transferred to the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR).

The suit alleges this decision was the result of an elaborate (and successful) “smear campaign” targeting Davis, Lisinksa and their organization.

In light of legislative threats to terminate this fledgling program, we reluctantly supported its transfer to SCDOR.  However, we continue to believe its best long-term interests would be served by private sector management – which is exactly what leading fiscal conservatives in the S.C. General Assembly (including senator Tom Davis) have proposed.

More importantly, we continue to believe the small slivers of parental choice contemplated by state lawmakers in South Carolina are totally inconsistent with the objective of improving academic achievement in the Palmetto State – which is home to the worst government-run system of public education in the entire country.  Each year, state lawmakers reject modest choice expansions while they pump billions of dollars into the failed “one size fits none” government model.

The only “outcome” this massive investment has produced?  More expensive failure …

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Anyway, the lawsuit filed by Davis addresses any number of allegations ostensibly made by Weaver, her organization and other defendants.  Among these allegations?  That Davis and Lisinska “bankrupted” a tax credit scholarship program in the state of Georgia, that Lisinska (who is Polish) is a member of the “Russian mob” and that she and Davis have been “sending tax credit donations raised out of the country to places such as the Cayman Islands.”

Davis’ suit expressly denies these – and other – allegations.

Of particular interest?  The lawsuit alleged that the defendants had an interest in hamstringing the organic growth of the fledgling choice program so that they could continue to draw six-figure salaries while promoting its gradual expansion.  Specifically, the suit alleged that defendants wanted to drag out initial funding for the program over a three-year period so as to prevent their own financial support from “drying up.”

Interesting …

The suit originally contained dozens of unnamed defendants, however an October 2018 ruling by S.C. circuit court judge DeAndrea Benjamin compelled Davis to name these “John Does” in a modified complaint – and serve them – within two weeks.

It is not clear how many of the additional named defendants were served in connection with the case, meaning it is not clear at the moment which defendants remain parties to the lawsuit.  Source close to the case have told us they believe the only defendants currently on the docket are Weaver and her organization, but we hope to get some clarity on that point soon.

We reached out to Weaver in the hopes of incorporating her perspective on these matters but did not immediately receive a response.

Our view on all of this?  Having spent the past dozen years fighting for expanded parental choice, it saddens us to see this movement so badly divided.  Given the enormity of the task at hand, the school choice movement in South Carolina needs to be not only unified – but fighting together for the sort of broad-based, universal choice the situation requires.

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