COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – State Senators are debating a bill that would establish a school voucher-like program in South Carolina.
S.935 would create an ‘education scholarship accounts’ (ESA) program for students who qualify for Medicaid or who are disabled. Families of students who qualify would get $6,000 per year.
That money could be used to cover things like private school tuition, tutoring, books or cover the cost of a student to attend a school district they are not zoned for.
The bill caps enrollment in the program at 5,000 students the first year. By the end of the third year, a total of 15,000 could get an ‘education scholarship account.’ It could cost the state close to $90 million.
Supporters said the bill would help students in underperforming schools. Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry) said, “It’s not going to be the silver bullet that changes everything… It will help that individual kid but it won’t have dramatic effects for good or for bad really.”
On Thursday, Senators debated an amended version of the bill on the floor.
The most recent version of the bill would keep a student’s per-pupil funding in a school district if they were to leave and requires private schools to give students with an ESA the same standardized tests they would be required to take if they attended public school.
Senator Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield) spent a couple of hours on the floor Thursday arguing against the bill. However, he said he would support it if certain changes were made to ensure families had true ‘school choice’.
He said, “By definition private schools have the ability to not admit students who do not meet up to their standards. They should have the right to deny people that don’t meet their standards until they start accepting public tax dollars.”
Sen. Fanning said he would like to see more accountability in the bill and said using money in this way for education could make the teacher shortage crisis worse. Sen. Fanning also said the bill would violate the state constitution.
“You can’t use public money in private schools and this bill specifically sets aside $100 million in the contingency reserve fund and in future years from the general fund for private schools,” Sen. Fanning said.
The Senate adjourned Thursday without voting on the bill. The bill has been set for special order and Senators will continue debate on it next week.