Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush advocates in South Carolina for school voucher bill
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Before South Carolina’s legislative session ends next month and lawmakers leave Columbia for the rest of the year, Republicans have a big goal for education: to enact a school voucher program.
On Tuesday, a prominent member of their party was in Columbia to advocate on their behalf: former Florida Governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
Bush spoke with members of the House Republican Caucus about school choice.
Caucus meetings are usually not open to the press, but journalists were invited to hear his remarks Tuesday.
“I’m here as an evangelist for this idea during Easter week, and I hope you guys stay the course and pass meaningful legislation,” Bush said.
Bush is currently the chairman of ExcelinEd, an organization that advocates for school choice expansion across the United States.
That includes voucher programs, which give families public dollars to send their kids to private schools.
Bush was governor when Florida implemented a similar program.
“All of the arguments that the end is near, that the world’s come to an end, that kids, you know, the low, the kids that can’t learn are going to be left behind — all the exact opposite has happened in Florida. Public schools are better because parents can choose private schools,” he said.
After Bush’s remarks to House Republicans, the bipartisan House Education and Public Works Committee took public testimony on a bill to enact a school voucher program in South Carolina, S.39.
At full implementation, the bill would give up to 15,000 students a year — scaling up from 5,000 students in program’s first year and 10,000 in the second — $6,000 in state money in an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) to pay for private-school tuition and other allowable costs, including books, fees, and transportation.
In the current version of the bill, which has already passed the Senate, families with an income at 200% of the federal poverty level in the program’s first year, 300% in the second, and 400% in the third year and beyond, which would include families making up to around $120,000 annually.
“Voucher programs cost our students by taking taxpayer dollars that should go to public schools and sending them to private schools,” Sherry East of the South Carolina Education Association said.
Most speakers Tuesday testified against the bill during its 40-minute hearing. Committee members said they would hold their discussion and vote on advancing the bill until a later meeting.
“Often I heard, ‘Well, our children are being failed by public education. Parents need a better choice,’” Melissa Goforth, a parent in Lexington School District Two, said. “I couldn’t disagree more. Our children are being failed by legislators that are so heavily influenced and funded by outside interests.”
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