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South Carolina Poised to Introduce Vouchers for Spec. Ed. Students

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Lawmakers in South Carolina have agreed to establish a tax-credit scholarship program for special-education students, the state's first foray into vouchers. The measure is part of the state's $6.7 billion budget passed by the House of Representatives and the state Senate this week.

The plan has been sent to Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, for approval. She has until Tuesday to issue her line-item vetoes.

Through the program proposed in the budget, the state will dole out up to $8 million in tax credits to people and businesses who donate to nonprofits that will distribute private-school scholarships for students with disabilities.

If the program is signed into law, South Carolina will join 15 other tax-credit scholarship programs in 12 states around the country. Alabama created a tax-credit scholarship program this year as well.

That private school choice model, in which tax credits are provided to individuals or organizations who make donations to scholarship-granting entities, is already in place in several states. Backers of that approach say it creates a method for helping disadvantaged students, as well as those with special needs. Critics of the tax-credit models describe them as voucher programs in disguise that too often are unaccountable to taxpayers.

Efforts to establish such a program in South Carolina have come up in the legislature for years but failed to gain traction, says the Island Packet.

The current legislation states that scholarships cannot exceed $10,000 per pupil, and about 12 percent of South Carolina students would be eligible to receive the scholarships, says the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which praised the move. The House version of the program would have allowed low-income students to participate in the tax-credit scholarships, but the final version limits the program to special education students only.

"This is an important step toward giving South Carolina parents access to the schools that work best for their children," said Robert Enlow, the president and chief executive officer of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an Indiana-based organization which backs vouchers, said in a statement.

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