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State House

South Carolina School Choice Bill Advances

House of Representatives approves expansion of education trust fund …

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The South Carolina House of Representatives advanced a school choice bill this week that would dramatically expand a recently established program – one which is currently being challenged in court.

By a 69-27 vote margin, the GOP-controlled chamber advanced H. 5164 – a bill which would expand the Education Scholarship Trust Fund (ESTF) program created last year. The current ESTF program – administered by the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) – provides for 5,000 academic scholarships totaling $6,000 apiece for eligible K-12 students.

That’s $30 million worth of school choice …

To put those numbers in context, there are currently 769,703 students in the Palmetto State’s struggling government-run system – and taxpayers are shelling out a record $18,026 per student per year. And that’s not counting carry-forward balances hoarded by districts, federal “stimulus” funding or proceeds from local bond referendums.

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That’s $13.87 billion going into a failed status quo … which, incidentally, has been engaged in an increasingly overt campaign of indoctrination even as students continue to scrape the bottom of the national barrel in terms of academic achievement.

Under the provisions of the bill that cleared the House this week, the current ESTF program – which drew 8,000 applications over a two-month period – would be expanded on multiple fronts in future years. For starters, the bill would remove a requirement which insisted students had to attend a government-run school during the previous academic year to be eligible. Restrictions based on income levels would also be phased out over a three-year period, and the cap of 5,000 students would increase to 10,000 in the coming fiscal year (2025-2026) and 15,000 in the following fiscal year (2026-2027).

After that, SCDE officials would be allowed to submit a budget request for the program based on “unmet demand” – but there is nothing in the law requiring lawmakers to fund scholarships beyond the existing three-tiered cap.

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RELATED | ROTTEN APPLES IN SOUTH CAROLINA SCHOOLS

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Nonetheless, advocates are pleased the House has taken action to expand the program – and are confident it will continue to grow in the years to come.

“This action by the South Carolina House today is a bold response to South Carolinians’ overwhelming demand for universal school choice,” said Wendy Damron. “Just yesterday, a new poll found that 75 percent of South Carolina voters support the adoption of universal education savings accounts (ESAs).”

Damron is president of Palmetto Promise, a group which has been advocating on behalf of expanding ESTF eligibility. According to her, the bill’s language “would allow the program to grow based on demand.”

Palmetto Promise “has long championed the flexibility it offers parents as they seek ways to customize an education for their children,” according to Damron.

While lawmakers were expanding the ESTF, the status quo continued to push back against choice. Specifically, a collection of parents, the NAACP and a glorified state teachers’ union have filed suit against the original bill – arguing the disbursement of public funds to private and parochial entities violates the state Constitution.

That case is currently pending before the S.C. supreme court.

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Where should you invest your political capital? Our Palmetto Political Stock Index has got you covered!

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Assuming the court rules against the state, another bill – H. 4645 – would cut out the state as a middleman and simply give the money directly to parents in the form of a refundable tax credit. In fact, the tax credit proposal would provide more money than the scholarship – $7,000 per child – and its eligibility is unlimited.

Many parents also favor the tax credit because it comes without any strings attached.

According to sponsor Jordan Pace, the tax credit bill would “incentivize a marketplace for education” in South Carolina.

Citing the ongoing court challenge to the ESTF program, Pace said his bill was “the cleanest possible way to create a marketplace in education for South Carolina.”

“By returning their own tax dollars back to families, bypassing the schools entirely, we ensure both that unnecessary government regulations do not encumber families and that the law could not be challenged in court as unconstitutional,” Pace told me.

This media outlet has consistently advocated on behalf of expanded parental choice. As I have often noted, choice is the “silver bullet” in education – the key to “unlocking academic achievement, stimulating innovation and creating the only accountability that’s worth a damn, the accountability of the marketplace.”

Unfortunately, South Carolina has consistently lagged behind the rest of the nation when it comes to giving more choices to parents. One way or the other, let’s hope this is the year that (finally) starts to change …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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7 comments

Dum Spiro Spero Top fan March 21, 2024 at 7:47 pm

Assuming that the court rules against a voucher and the program reverts to a bill that passes giving parents money directly in the form of a refundable tax of $7,000 per student. Fine, but close to 50% of SC families do not pay state income taxes. Help me out on this, what good would s tax credit do if a person has no tax liability?

Reply
Don't Ruin the Surprise! March 22, 2024 at 8:09 am

Hey man, you can’t just out Sick Willie’s welfare-for-the-rich program like that! We still need the gullible rubes thinking this program is for them!

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Dum Spiro Spero Top fan March 21, 2024 at 7:51 pm

Correct that to “refundable tax credit of $7,000 per student.

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JustSomeGuy Top fan March 22, 2024 at 8:56 am

A refundable credit allows a filer to get a refund exceeding their tax liability. It would work much the same as the Earned Income Credit or Child Tax Credit.

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JustSomeGuy Top fan March 22, 2024 at 8:59 am

“Refund”, in that context, is a misnomer. “Subsidy” is a better word, assuming the cost of education exceeds the amount of the credit. If the credit can exceed the cost, “welfare” is appropriate.

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Nanker Phelge March 22, 2024 at 5:15 pm

Socialism that Fitsnews approves of!

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William March 25, 2024 at 11:30 am

The Taxpayers provide a public education system for everyone. No discrimination, no legacies, no religious test. Anyone can attend. I am all for making that an excellent school system. But this “hey neighbor will you pay for my kid’s private school plan” is just a scam to get those of us who do not have children in school, and those of us who have children in public schools to foot the bill for private schools. Schools our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews etc. may not even be admitted to if they wanted to go. Tell private schools that if they want state money, they have to take students on a first come first serve basis and see how many take you up on that.

Can you imagine Joe Megabucks, whose kid goes to Porter Gaude, being told, “The good news is you got a private school voucher, the bad news is Jill from the projects just took over your kid’s slot. Better luck next year, and could you turn in
Preston’s monogrammed blazer at the door on your way out?

They say they are just taking back the money they pay to public schools, but that is a lie. Remember school taxes on private residences have been eliminated. So no single individual pays $7000 to to the public school system. They are taking more from the system than they paid in, hurting the people who are left or requiring the rest of us to pay more to support the public school system. I.E. Scam.

Remember to vote against anyone who votes for vouchers. They are picking your pocket.

Reply

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