S.C. lawmakers get advice on school choice

  • Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 10:18 p.m.

COLUMBIA — South Carolina lawmakers are getting advice on how to implement a private school choice plan.

A committee on Thursday listened to experts on how private school-choice programs are working around the country, The State newspaper reported.

South Carolina’s program offers tax credits for donations made to provide scholarships for students with disabilities to attend private school.

Taxpayers who donate money starting next year to nonprofit groups offering private-school scholarships to special-needs students will be eligible for tax credits on their 2014 tax returns.

The scholarships are for a maximum of $10,000. Taxpayers can claim dollar-for-dollar credits for their donations, lowering their tax bill by up to 60 percent.

Private schools participating in the program must report how their students perform on national and state standardized tests.

The program was contained in the state budget this year and lawmakers are working on how to strengthen the program in permanent state law next year.

John Cunningham with the National Conference of State Legislatures said Florida is saving money. He said Florida is saving about $1.50 for every dollar it spends in its school choice program that provides tax credits for private school scholarship donations.

The savings come from students leaving the public school system and moving to private schools, Cunningham said. Students receiving scholarships who already are in private school do not produce any savings.

States should consider school-choice opportunities as ways to complement public education and fill gaps in services, said Matthew Ladner, a senior policy and research adviser with the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

“School choice is in no way, shape or form a replacement for the public education system,” Ladner said. “Public education is a permanent feature of American life.”

Parents of special needs children and educators often are frustrated by the public school system that cannot meet the students’ needs with the public funding that is available, he said.

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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