SC lawmakers to try again on passing school voucher program

South Carolina Republicans are hoping this is the year they will be able to establish a school voucher program in the state.
Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 4:49 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2023 at 9:26 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Republicans are hoping this is the year they will be able to establish a school voucher program in the state.

It would give families public dollars to send their children to private schools. A school voucher bill made headlines last year as versions passed in both the House and Senate, but it fell short in the closing hours of last year’s legislative session over a disagreement about whether students receiving the money would be required to take a test meant to determine whether the state-funded program actually works.

With the start of the new legislative session this week, every bill that did not become law last year starts from scratch, including this one.

A Senate panel on Thursday advanced the exact same bill it passed to the Senate floor last year. Debate could begin as soon as next week.

As written, this bill would establish “Education Scholarship Accounts” and give $6,000 to as many as 15,000 students each year. To qualify, the students would have to be eligible for Medicaid or have an Individual Education Plan.

Families could use the funds to pay for private-school tuition, books and supplies, and transportation to and from school, among other approved uses.

Republicans have overwhelmingly supported this bill, saying it would give more options to kids in struggling schools and districts.

“Wealthy people, people that have enough money can afford choice,” Sen. Greg Hembree, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said. “I mean, they already have choice. But the kids who are most vulnerable don’t.”

Democrats, like Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, meanwhile, have largely opposed it.

“We need to focus on number of children in classrooms, teacher pay increases, recruiting new people to go into education as a field,” he said. “There are so many other things we could do that would so positively affect education.”

The Senate Education Committee faced criticism for not taking any public testimony on this bill before advancing it Thursday, which is something lawmakers usually do.

But senators defended that move, saying they have dealt with vetting this bill for years and that they took several hours of testimony on it as recently as last year.

Teacher advocacy groups also say they would rather lawmakers focus on issues like school safety and staffing ahead of this bill.