COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — More than 60 members of the South Carolina House of Representatives have signed on to a bill that would create Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
The legislation would allow some parents in South Carolina to use taxpayer dollars to cover private school tuition, textbooks or services for special needs students.
According to the bill, students eligible for ESAs include students in families that earn 200% of the federal poverty level (a family of four with a household income of $52,000 or less), Medicaid recipients, students enrolled in the South Carolina Early Reading Development and Education Program or prior Exceptional South Carolina students.
Similar bills have stalled before in the legislature. Previous versions of the bill included students in military families. Supporters said these scholarships would help families tailor their child’s education to fit their needs. Critics said the proposal is unconstitutional.
Padgett Mozingo said public education was not meeting her daughter’s needs. She said an ESA would help her family out. “Parents in South Carolina deserve options for their child,” she said.
Mozingo’s daughter Lila has Down Syndrome. Her daughter is being home-schooled right now but she was attending a private school before the pandemic.
She said, “The bottom line for us and other parents is that regardless of how our children child learn – we want them to be in an environment to learn to their fullest potential.”
An ESA would allow Mozingo to put the public education dollars the state allocates for her daughter into an account. The average student would receive close to $6,500 a year supporters said.
If approved, that money would only be used for certain expenses laid out in the bill. That includes things like private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring services, or other educational services for students with disabilities.
Derek Black is a law professor at the University of South Carolina. He is an expert in education law and policy. He has testified before lawmakers in opposition to similar legislation in the past.
Black said ESAs violate the state constitution. He said, “This isn’t the state legislature proposing to put new money into private school vouchers. This is the legislature proposing to take this money out of public school budgets and use it for private schools.”
Public school advocates agree. They said they are also concerned about accountability at private institutions.
Black said, “Another thing that is strange about this bill is that it doesn’t say anything about discrimination based upon sex, gender, religion, disability or language status.” He said higher education institutions that get public funds cannot discriminate.
The bill does require education service providers in South Carolina with ESA students to not discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national origin. It also provides other protections for students and accountability measures on how the money is spent.
According to the legislation, ESAs are capped at 5,000 K-3rd grade students during the first year.