South Carolina Lawmakers To Push Education Savings Accounts In 2021

Will “Republican” legislature take meaningful steps toward expanded academic freedom?

As we have written previously, if South Carolina is going to compete successfully in the coronavirus-altered economy of the 2020s then it must stop with the costly, crony capitalist giveaways to large corporations and instead focus on creating a better underlying business climate.

Specifically, it must create a business climate that attracts middle- to upper-income earners currently fleeing urban city centers – in addition to those who are part of the emerging “work-from-home” movement.

Central to this effort? Lowering the Palmetto State’s anti-competitive tax burden – specifically its exorbitantly high individual income tax rate, which assesses a seven percent levy on all earnings over $15,400.

That is the eleventh highest rate in the nation – and the highest in the southeast.

South Carolina also needs to lower its sales and property tax burdens.

In addition to being a magnet for these workers, strategically lowering taxes will also foster entrepreneurship and small business expansion … assuming U.S. president-elect Joe Biden doesn’t shut the country down.

Anyway … the other critical reform South Carolina must undertake in order to compete for these jobs is the imposition of some market-based accountability on its worst-in-the-nation government-run school system.

After all … people aren’t going to want to live and work in a place with high taxes and crappy schools, right? No. Especially not when studies have shown these high taxes are being driven in large part by perpetual funding increases for these crappy schools.

Heading into 2021, there are a total of 783,000 students in South Carolina’s chronically failing government run education system – with taxpayers shelling out a staggering $14,227 per pupil, per year.

That’s $11.2 billion … each year, every year.

Also, this total does not include “education” money spent in connection with local bond referendums … nor does it include the $1.53 billion in unrestricted reserve cash South Carolina’s school districts are currently sitting on (a number that soared by nearly $200 million from the previous fiscal year).

Also, it does not count the estimated $330 million in federal “stimulus” money routed to government-run schools (with more on the way).

One reform that appears to be picking up momentum? Education savings accounts – or ESAs. Under these proposals, parents are allowed to purchase education-related products and services for their children using a portion of the resources earmarked for them under the state’s per pupil funding formula.

“This allows families with more modest incomes to access more and diverse schooling options for their children,” noted the website

ESAs were the focus of a guest column published on our news outlet back in February of 2019 by Jonathan Butcher of the Heritage Foundation. According to Butcher – who lives in Greenville, S.C. – the accounts allow parents to take a more active role in tailoring academic experiences that addresses the individual needs of their children.

“Parents can pay for textbooks, education therapy, private school tuition, and personal tutors – to name a few possible uses,” Butcher wrote. “Parents can use an account to customize their child’s learning experience.”

The flexibility affording by such accounts is “life-changing,” according to Butcher. It could also be game-changing for the Palmetto State’s struggling government-run system – which has clearly failed to reform itself despite tens of millions of dollars being pumped into government-run “accountability” efforts each year.

So far only five states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee – have adopted ESAs. And the rules governing eligibility, funding limits, allowable uses and reporting requirements vary considerably from state-to-state.

Our guess is South Carolina – where GOP politicians routinely cower to the demands of the government-run system – will adopt the bare minimum of choice.

Assuming a bill even passes …

According to our sources, though, there is strong support for an ESA bill in the S.C. House of Representatives – where “Republicans” enjoy a commanding 81-43 advantage over Democrats. This means the issue could become an early litmus test for the new “conservative” majority in the S.C. Senate, where “Republicans” enjoy a 30-16 edge.

Of course as we have seen, GOP rule in the Palmetto State is not everything it is advertised as being …

Anyway, stay tuned for a follow-up post on South Carolina’s push for ESAs in 2021 – as well as update on ongoing efforts by pro-school choice lawmakers to advance other pro-free market reforms aimed at elevating academic outcomes in the Palmetto State.

Once again, along with tax relief this is among the most important things state lawmakers can do in the coming legislative session to enhance South Carolina’s overall competitiveness in the new economy …




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