McMaster signs education vouchers bill
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Gov. Henry McMaster signed state Senate bill S.39 Thursday morning to establish an Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program.
The bill is designed to allow parents to spend money to send their elementary, middle and high school children to a private school. The bill passed the House last week and passed the Senate in January. It establishes education scholarship accounts from which parents can get up to $6,000 a year to help pay for tuition, transportation, supplies or technology at either private or public schools outside their districts.
“We have finally arrived at the beginning of a great solution and a great step forward for our state,” McMaster said. “And among the many benefits are not just preparing our people to live happy, strong, healthy, meaningful lives; the impact on economic growth will be enormous.”
The program could expand to as many as 15,000 students over several years, or about 2% of South Carolina’s school-age population.
“I think what today shows is that this is not an either/or choice,” Education Superintendent Ellen Weaver said. “And so as State Superintendent of Education, I am proud to say that we are building the education ecosystem of the future right here in South Carolina to support that incredible economic growth that the governor is talking about, and to support the needs of individual students. We are here today to talk about the benefits to students, not systems, because that is what education is about: the individual God-given potential of every single student in our state.”
The proposal is expected to cost about $30 million next year and could cost as much as $90 million if it reaches capacity.
It has been a goal of conservatives since former Gov. Mark Sanford was voted into office more than 20 years ago. Berkeley County Republican Rep. Larry Grooms said he has tried to get the bill passed for more than two decades.
“For 25 years, I’m pushing the notion that parents ought to be the drivers of their children’s education. That education shouldn’t be divided up among who lives in the best zip code and who doesn’t,” Grooms said. “Parents, when given options, when parents are given choices, will exercise those choices in the best interest of their children and their families and we will have good outcomes because there’s one thing that we all know: freedom only works every time. Only works every time.”
South Carolina House Speaker Murrell Smith (R-Sumter County) said the state has given parents the power to make decisions about what’s best for their own children.
“As we went through COVID, the one thing we learned coming out of COVID is parents were demanding options for their children and choices,” he said. “And today, South Carolina has delivered on that demand the parents have made to us.”
Opponents of the bill said South Carolina needs to work on improving its public schools before sending people to private schools.
“Our state has failed public education for a long time,” Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg said. “Public school is the place where everyone is supposed to get educated regardless of who you are or where you come from. It builds character.”
Democrats said last week that Republicans stifled their changes to the bill, which were all rejected, and prevented a robust discussion by almost immediately voting to limit debate when the bill first came up.
Smith said the matter had been thoroughly debated last year when supporters thought they reached a compromise with the Senate just to have it fall through right as the 2022 session ended.
This year, the House kept that from happening by agreeing to the Senate version.
A legal challenge was expected almost as soon as the governor signs the bill. The South Carolina constitution prohibits using public money to benefit private educational institutions.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.