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South Carolina Considers Private School Scholarships, Tax Breaks

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A bunch of conservative-leaning states have approved laws to create or expand private school choice. Lawmakers in another thoroughly red state, South Carolina, want their state to get into the act.

A Republican-sponsored bill that was heard by a Senate committee earlier this week allows nonprofits to provide scholarship funding for private school tuition and other costs to disadvantaged students, as well as to students with disabilities. The measure also would award tax credits to individuals that contribute to those organizations.

In addition, the measure would give tax deductions to families to cover costs equal to what they're spending on private school—up to a cap of $4,000 per child, per year, according to a recent version of the legislation posted online. The bill also would establish a small deduction, $1,000, for families seeking to have children attend a public school district other than their own. The measure is backed by South Carolina Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, whose director of legislative and public affairs testified in support of the bill at its committee hearing this week.

"The school choice debate isn't about public schools versus independent schools, or brick-and-mortar classrooms versus virtual classrooms," Zais said in an e-mail. "The debate is about what type of school and classroom best meets the learning style and needs of an individual student. School choice is an important step towards transforming the current education system to a student-centered model that provides a personalized and customized education for every student."

Despite the recent run of voucher bills becoming law in states across the country, the battle to establish private-school choice in South Carolina has been an uphill slog, acknowledged Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican who is sponsoring a version of the legislation in his chamber. He attributes that lack of traction to a failure to muster at least some support from Democrats, though he also says some GOP lawmakers have not been supportive. While the tax-credit legislation has been approved by the full House this session, its chances are dicier in the Senate, said Grooms, where opinion is more divided. The lawmaker, who has sponsored several private-school choice measures over the years, believes support for the those options has increased, albeit gradually.

"Every time you take a sledgehammer to a rock, you make a little crack," the senator said.

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