A House committee voted to advance a bill that would create tax breaks for parents of children in private schools. Republicans on the committee voted 16-8 to advance the latest “school choice” bill over the objections of Democrats, who said it would divert millions in state revenue.
It now goes to the House floor.
Rep. Rita Allison (R-Lyman) says it is an attempt to help low-income students and those with special needs who are stuck in failing schools.
“Those children should not have to stay in a failing school and their parents should have the same opportunity as anybody else,” Allison said during a House Ways and Means committee meeting Tuesday.
H.4894 would allow tax credits of up to $5,000 for third parties who donate to special scholarship organizations for low-income or special needs students. Those organizations would be capped at $15 million in scholarships.
It would also allow families to deduct up to $4,000 on their income taxes for private schools, $2,000 for homeschool expenses, and $1,000 for attending a public school that charges them for living outside its borders.
Democrats, who have opposed similar bills in the past for a list of reasons, honed in on two Tuesday– the cost to state coffers and the lack of state accountability for independent schools.
Rep. Joe Neal (D-Columbia) said private schools do not have to follow the same regulations as public schools and questioned how objective comparisons could be made when the two use different student assessment tests.
“What you end up with is a second tier of schools that don’t have to comply with the performance outcomes that the state schools (do),” Neal said, “And that’s troubling.”
Allison answered that only schools that are members of the state’s three recognized accredited independent organizations (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the SC Association of Christian Schools, and the SC Independent Schools Association) could take advantage of the scholarships. She said each of those associations has its own standards.
“We’re looking at parents who are going to hold the schools accountable,” Allison said.
Rep. Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews) questioned where Republican leaders were willing to cut in the budget to make up for the nearly $38 million in estimated lost revenue.
“We spent all the General Fund dollars that we had,” he said, “Every one of them.”
Ways and Means Chairman Brian White said it was too early in the budgeting process to plan for that, especially when House leaders are unsure about the bill’s chances in the Senate.