We Need School Choice

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We Need School Choice,” is a guest editorial that ran in Newberry Observer:

Any parent with more than one child knows: every child is different and each is blessed with their own unique strengths and challenges.

It is past time South Carolina had a public education system that recognized this fundamental truth.

Part of that recognition is getting honest about traditional public schools. Their one-size-fits-all curriculum and instruction don’t always match the needs of each child. South Carolina is home to a huge array of charter, magnet, private, independent and homeschool options that have grown to serve the children of parents who have, for one reason of another, decided their local public school was not the best match for their child.

Equal access to these schools needs to be expanded. At the college level, this has happened through the H.O.P.E. and L.I.F.E. scholarship programs. The “Education Opportunity Act” (Senate Bill 520) will do the same for grades Kindergarten through 12. Here’s how:

State Income Tax Credits: Any person in South Carolina who files a state tax return and pays part of a student’s tuition will be able to claim a credit. The credit for tuition of a child with special needs will average $4,867 (or 100 percent of the state’s average student spending). The credit for children zoned to attend failing public schools will be 75 percent of that amount (or $3,650). All other students will be eligible for a credit of 50 percent of state spending (averaging $2,433) but no one can take a credit greater than the actual spending on tuition. Parents who homeschool their children can claim up to $1,000 per child in credits based on their instruction-related expenses.

Student Scholarship Organizations: Children of families with low-incomes will be served too. All children from families with an income 200 percent or below the federal poverty level (roughly $41,000 for a 4-person household) will be eligible for tuition scholarships from charities that exist solely to award them. Corporate and individual donors to these non-profit “Student Scholarships Organizations” will also receive state income tax credits and any money that doesn’t reach low-income children in the form of scholarships will be given to the state’s General Fund.

Similar programs have provided tens of millions of dollars of support for low-income children in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

This system of credits will save public schools millions of dollars while providing middle and low-income parents greater incentives for active engagement in their children’s education.

On average, each student who transfers out of a traditional school will result in an increase of $5,516 in funding for the local school district. That’s because locally-raised property and sales taxes for schools are untouched by the Education Opportunity Act. In other words, public schools will have more money to educate fewer children. Public schools will also have a renewed sense of mission because all parents in South Carolina will, for the first time, have real access to all types of classrooms for their children.

School Choice is the real reform that families, students and taxpayers deserve. It is an overdue recognition that a comprehensive “public education” system, with resources for effectively educating all children, is too big and too important of a concept to only include neighborhood “public schools.”

The author, Randy Page, is president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government.

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