The Opportunity of School Choice

Focus on the student.jpg

Time has come to focus on the student, not the System.

Giving every family in South Carolina access to a quality education for their children is essential to our state’s future.

It also shows that we, as a state, understand that parents have a right –even a responsibility– to make important decisions about their children’s lives.

Through school choice South Carolina can move away from the antiquated, exclusive model of “public or private schools,” and embrace a broader system in which public AND private schools are made available to meet the learning needs of individual students. School Choice means real options for all parents: public and private and charter and magnet and virtual and home school.

Only when parents have options can we be certain that each child is seated in a classroom where the curriculum and instruction are matched to their specific learning needs. Competition and easy access are proven. They have worked well at the college level in the form of HOPE, LIFE and Palmetto Fellows Scholarships. We need to replicate those types of choices in grades Kindergarten through twelve.

The South Carolina Education Opportunity Act allows parents to take advantage of one of two mechanisms for school choice: Tax credits, and Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO). Each of these tools will help parents who choose to send their child to a private school, as well as the parents who feel that local public schools best meet their students’ needs.

Tax credits are simply a way to reward people who save the state money, and parents who choose to home school, or send their child to private school, are doing exactly that. Anyone who files a state tax return, and pays for part of a student’s tuition, is eligible to claim a credit. The credit for tuition of a child with special needs in South Carolina will average $4,867 (or 100% of the state’s average student spending).

The credit for children zoned to attend failing public schools will be 75% of that amount (or $3,650). All other students will be eligible for a credit of 50% of state spending ($2,433) but no one can take a credit greater than the actual spending on tuition. Parents who home school their children can claim up to $1,000 per child in credits based on their instruction related expenses.

Many low-income families will be unable to take advantage of a tax credit, and the Education Opportunity Act addresses just this too. To ensure that needy families have equal access to good schools, families with an income 200% or below the federal poverty level (roughly $41,000 for a 4-person household) will be eligible for tuition scholarships from charities solely for that purpose. Corporate and individual donors to these non-profit “Student Scholarships Organizations” will also receive state income tax credits. Any money that doesn’t reach low-income children in the form of scholarships will be given to the state’s General Fund.

Last school year over 20,000 low-income students in Florida received scholarships to attend 937 different private schools through this type of program. In Pennsylvania, where the caps on donations and credits are higher, it was over 44,000 students. Not only have donors eagerly given money to save low-income children from failing public schools, they have also saved taxpayers money in the process.

When a parent in South Carolina takes advantage of a tuition tax credit from the state portion of student funding, all locally raised sales and property tax revenues (about $5,516) remain in the public school. This clearly results in an immediate benefit to students in public schools: more money for fewer students.

The real options offered in the Education Opportunity Act encourage parental involvement, and at the same time increase resources and reduce class sizes in local public schools.

Something all South Carolinians can rally behind is the need to put children back as the focus of education, not the system itself. School choice promises to do this. Can South Carolina really afford to let the opportunity pass by?

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