COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – On the second day of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed a controversial education bill that would give families state money for their children to attend private schools .
A Senate education subcommittee heard comments from the public Wednesday on P. 935, which would establish education savings accounts, also known as scholarship accounts, similar to education bond programs in other states.
The testimony lasted nearly two hours, with most of the morning’s speakers urging senators to prevent the bill from going any further, saying it would be detrimental to students and teachers in South Carolina, the majority of whom attend or work in public schools.
“If passed it would further degrade a struggling public education system, and as the system crumbles we will see young people suffer,” said teacher Todd Scholl.
Through education savings accounts, the state would give families money each quarter to mainly pay for tuition for non-public schools, as well as other eligible expenses, such as textbooks, tutoring services. and examination fees.
Families would receive an amount equal to the state average of how much public schools receive from the state per student.
“When funds are taken from the public sector and given to private schools, students enrolled in public schools will, in many cases, be denied quality academic programs,” said retired teacher Marvin Byers.
Under the bill, there would be income limits to determine the eligibility of families.
In the program’s first year of existence, which would be the 2022-2023 school year if lawmakers passed the bill this session, 5,000 students from kindergarten to grade three would be eligible to enroll. The number of eligible students and grades would increase for the next three school years, and in grade five there would be no limit to the number of K-12 students who could enroll, as long as the General Assembly allocates money to Encourage Them.
A tax impact study from the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office estimated at this point, with no limit on the number of students participating in education savings accounts, it would cost the state more than $ 2.9 billion.
“The actual reduction in local revenue will depend on the number of students participating in the program and the district’s public funding. State funding per student during the 2019-2020 fiscal year ranged from $ 5,089 to $ 11,940, ”the report explains.
Opponents argued that the program would remove essential funds from public schools.
Opposing groups include the South Carolina School Boards Association and three teacher advocacy organizations, the Palmetto State Teachers Association, the South Carolina Education Association, and SCforEd.
“Education scholarship account vouchers are untested, non-attributable, and unaffordable. They are dangerous to our public school system here, ”said Colleen O’Connell of the South Carolina Education Association.
A smaller number of people spoke out in favor of the bill on Wednesday, saying it would help more students and families by giving them more educational opportunities.
“It gives parents the freedom to choose the best learning institution for the child’s individual academic needs,” said Haymee Giuliani, principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Anderson.
“South Carolina would benefit from allowing free market principles to raise the level of education provided in our state,” added supporter Patrick Conley. “This legislation is good for our state. “
The bill also enjoys major support in the State House, with Governor Henry McMaster supporting its passage.
In his executive budget, the governor asked lawmakers to set aside $ 20 million to start the education savings account program, if lawmakers pass the bill this session.
“These accounts provide the opportunity for working or low-income parents to choose the type of education and teaching environment that best suits their children’s unique needs,” said McMaster.
Senators did not vote on the bill’s progress at their meeting on Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield saying they would try to schedule another subcommittee meeting next week to discuss the legislation before voting.
Copyright 2022 WIS. All rights reserved.
Notice a spelling or grammar mistake in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the title of the article.