Panel of S.C. senators take up bill that would create education savings accounts

Panel of S.C. senators take up bill that would create education savings accounts

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One day after Senate Democrats promised to fight any school voucher programs in South Carolina “to the end”, a panel of Senators took up the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Account Act (S.556).

"These types of programs are providing significant benefits to students with special needs and the public schools they are zoned for just aren't able to provide the services they need," said Senator Shane Massey (R-Edgefield), who is the chairman of the Senate Education Subcommittee and a sponsor of the legislation.

The bill would transfer the state funding for a student into an account that can be used by parents for private school tuition or services for students with special needs. Sen. Massey said, as the bill stands right now, families with a child in under-performing public schools or a child with special needs would be eligible for this type of account.

On Thursday morning, the subcommittee listened to testimony from parents and education professionals from states like Arizona and Florida that have a similar program in place. According to their testimony, a small amount of the eligible students in those states take part in the programs.

"All these concerns you hear about the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be coming out of education is just not all right," Sen. Massey said.

The South Carolina Education Association said any money redistributed from public education worries them.

"This is going to take money out of the school system and put it somewhere else,” SCEA President Sherry East said. “Until you fund what you have, I wouldn't even want to consider one of these programs."

East said she is also concerned about the protections for students with special needs.

"The federal guidelines or protections for students with disabilities do not follow you when you leave a public institution," she said.

Sen. Massey said there will be tweaks to the legislation in the coming weeks.

"It's going to be much smaller in scope,” he said. “Much more limited to the students we're talking about: students with special needs, students in under-performing schools, there might be a poverty factor there as well. I think it's going to be much smaller than what the opposition would have you believe."

The Senate Education Subcommittee expects to meet next week to continue its work on the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Account Act.

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