State Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston), lead sponsor of Senate Bill 520, has asked a group of seventeen Senators on the Education Committee to more closely consider details of legislation offering School Choice to parents across South Carolina.
Supporters are seeking an open floor debate on the educational tax credit proposal in the full South Carolina Senate.
The legislation, Senate Bill 520, is entitled the “Educational Opportunity Act” and provides modest tax credit for families who homeschool their children, send their children to independent schools, or transfer public schools. It also contains tax credits for individual and corporate donors who finance tuition scholarships for low-income children. The bill is specifically designed to increase per-student funding in public schools as students transfer out.
Parents, community leaders, and independent school leaders have been pushing to have the legislation sent to the Senate floor for a straightforward up-or-down roll call vote. Hundreds of parents packed into three separate over-flow rooms earlier this year when as they came to support the legislation during the K-12 Subcommittee public hearing phase. Thousands more have attended statehouse rallies on the steps of the capital building in recent years.
In a press release, Randy Page, President of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, commented on the decision:
“Educators have said it time and again: the real key to student success is parental engagement. This bill rewards and encourages that parental engagement. It deserves a full and open legislative debate.”
Mr. Page further noted that the Education Opportunity Act was still being considered at the Committee level in the House of Representatives (H. 3802).
Senators Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), Mike Fair (R-Greenville), Greg Ryberg (R-Aiken) and Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), all sponsors of the bill and members of the Education Committee, have spoken passionately about the 73,000 students trapped in persistently failing public schools and the need to improve South Carolina’s shameful 55 percent high school graduation rate. They have pointed to School Choice as a way to facilitate family involvement and match children with classrooms suited to their specific learning needs.
This year 71,755 children in South Carolina enrolled in independent schools, and 18,047 were homeschooled. Based on 2008-09 public school appropriations these students represent a savings of $1,030,926,960.00 to state and local taxpayers.
South Carolina already offers dozens of tax credits for money saving activities ranging from biomass energy production, hybrid cars and trickle irrigation to corporate childcare and premarital counseling.
Later in the Education Committee meeting, several Senators refused to consider a motion that would have taken language from S. 520 and added it to a public school transfer proposal. Senators Grooms, Ryberg, and Fair went on the record calling for a roll-call vote to consider such an insertion, but were defeated.