Money and Influence Should Not Be Prerequisites for Quality Education

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Michelle Obama-along with a variety of Hollywood celebrities, singers and military officers- will be visiting Washington, D.C. schools to speak to students setting goals and pursuing their dreams.

According to the first lady’s office, “These events are an extension of the Obama administration’s commitment to engage with the D.C. community and open the White House for arts, culture and educational purposes.”

A few short months ago, the new president made a strong statement about his “commitment to engage with the D.C. community” when he enrolled his own children in a costly, exclusive private school.

However noble the intent of Mrs. Obama’s school tour, a question needs to be answered for parents with children in public schools: If public schools are not good enough to help the Obama children achieve their dreams, why should they be the only option for everyone else?

As has been demonstrated by the First Family, school choice exists even in states that have not had the foresight to enact school choice legislation. Parents with money and influence have the ability to either pay private school tuition, or move to a district with high performing public schools. Families lacking the ability to pay or move, have to cross their fingers and hope that local public schools have a good track record. Sadly, South Carolina families without financial means are faced with a high probability that their child will end up in an underperforming public school.

The recently introduced “Education Opportunity Act” gives low- income parents the same choices that are already available to people with money or influence. This legislation allows charitable giving organizations-called Student Scholarship Organizations- to receive corporate and individual donations, and give those donations back out in the form of tuition scholarships to needy families. Any family that is at 200% of the Federal poverty index (about $41,000 for a family of four) would qualify to receive a scholarship from an SSO.

States like Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona have used a similar mechanism to help thousands of families get into high performing schools. Companies and individuals have lined up to donate money for tuition scholarships. In several cases states have even had to increase the limits on contributions to accommodate all the contributions. South Carolina must expand access to quality schools for all families.

State lawmakers, many of whom have the means to send their own children to private schools, have no excuse to ignore this opportunity to help thousands of low-income and minority students achieve the dreams that failing public schools are denying them.

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