A bipartisan group of state legislators led by Charleston County Democratic Senator Robert Ford unveiled legislation promoting school choice as the answer for what they called the failing schools in South Carolina. The proposed legislation, labeled the South Carolina Education Opportunity Act, would provide a tax credit for parents whose children are zoned for failing public schools, for students attending a public or private school, and for special needs students. The education tax credit would average $2400 for regular students, $3600 for children in failing schools, and $4800 for a special needs student. A person or a corporation may also claim a tax credit for contributions made to a student scholarship organization for children of low income families. Ford, who has announced his candidacy for Governor in 2010, says he is not siding with conservative Republicans on the issue of school choice for political gain.
“If a conservative Republican is right on time with an issue, I will support them and I am supporting them. I will challenge any black Democrat, any white Democrat in this country to debate this issue. There is no way they can justify failing schools,” Ford says. He adds that his motives for supporting the measure have been questioned by a number of persons including members of the Legislative Black Caucus, but he says in this case he thinks the measure is the best way for all of the state’s children to escape the trap of failing schools.
Horry County Republican Representative Tracy Edge says opponents of the proposed measure are fighting to keep the status quo system which includes failing public schools that are shortchanging the children of South Carolina. Edge says contrary to what opponents say the measure is not another attempt to push for a voucher system.
Edge says the present system is not working. “It is unbelievable to me that our educational establishment wants to trap people in failing schools which don’t make progress despite all the resources they continue to put toward them. The resources aren’t the answer, and it still amazes me that a kid with special needs can’t get the option to go where he or she can have greater educational opportunities.”
Edge says the proposed measure would not remove funds from public schools, in fact with more children taking advantage of school choice more funds would be left for the public schools that are excelling and those schools that are trying to measure up.
South Carolina Education Association President Sheila Gallagher says proponents of the proposal may label its features tax credits, but in her mind it is just another push for vouchers to subsidize private schools.
She says, “You’re not going to give them a choice with vouchers. You want to give the choices that are in the public schools. That means that these representatives just standing here are willing to put the funding into the public schools that are necessary. We are about to pink slip a whole bunch of public school teachers. That is not going to help our investment which are our public schools. You want to make those changes then you’ve got to put the money, you’ve got to put the resources in especially our elementary grades.”
Greenville County Republican Eric Bedingfield says despite the best efforts of those who would want to retain the status quo system, change is coming for education in South Carolina for the good of the children. Bedingfield says, “There is an entrenched establishment in this state that for six years has tried to snuff out change and they’ve done it by scorching the earth. There is just one problem, six years later we’re still standing here with the exactly the same problem, failing schools and failing children.”