School Choice Gains Momentum in South Carolina

South Carolina has introduced school choice legislation just in time for National School Choice Week.

Expansion of school choice programs to those in less-fortunate socioeconomic circumstances is a movement that has been gaining momentum amongst South Carolina legislators for over a decade. A school choice bill finally passed the South Carolina General Assembly last year, then failed to pass in the State Senate. But this year, State Senator Larry Grooms introduced Senate Bill 279, which is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of fifteen other state senators, and represents the state’s most promising effort yet to expand educational options to parents and children statewide.

The bill aims to provide scholarships to low-income and special-needs students, and would offer tax deductions to those parents electing to homeschool their children or send their children to private schools. Senator Grooms harkened to the success of such programs in other states, declaring that “this is a national movement toward freedom, and South Carolina needs to be part of it. Parents know what is best for their children. We need to give them the liberty to act on that when it comes to something as important as education.”

Despite widespread public support, not all have been won over by arguments for increasing school choice. The chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Hugh Leatherman, previously blocked school choice legislation from going to the floor for a vote last session, believing that school choice programs “take money out of our public school system, and we need all the money in the public school system we can get.” This line of reasoning assumes pouring more money into public schools guarantees the improvement of education, but funds channeled into public school systems are all too often absorbed by an ever-growing bureaucracy before they reach the classroom.

If the school choice legislation can clear the hurdle of the State Senate, its effective implementation looks promising. Governor Nikki Haley just issued a proclamation in support of National School Choice Week, joining more than 20 other state governors across the country.

For the time being, South Carolina parents across the state are embracing the prospect of increased choice over their children’s education, and eagerly await SB279’s arrival to Governor Haley’s desk.

— Robert Fountain
Robert Fountain is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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