School choice bill introduced in SC Senate again

jself@thestate.comJanuary 25, 2013 

— A bill to help S.C. parents pay the cost of private school was introduced again in the state Senate Wednesday.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, introduced the bill, similar to one that passed in the S.C. House last year but stalled in the Senate.

The bill would give tax deductions to parents who home school their children or send them to private school. It also would give tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship programs that provide grants for low-income children or those with disabilities to attend private schools.

“We’re going to have school choice in South Carolina. The only question is when will it be first implemented,” said Grooms, who is running in the GOP primary for the vacant 1st District congressional seat. “Every year, we learn more from the experience of other states.”

The state already has school choice in more affluent areas, where parents can send their children to good public schools or private schools, said Neil Mellen, spokesman for South Carolinians for Responsible Government, which advocates school choice. The bill would expand those options to lower-income areas, Mellen said.

Similar bills have appeared unsuccessfully in the state Senate and House for years. Last year, critics questioned how the state would offset the cost of the tax breaks, estimated at $37 million a year.

The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

Leatherman said he had not seen the bill and could not comment directly on its merits. But, he added, “I’ll be looking very carefully at any bill that has tax reductions and tax credits.”

Though he does not rule out supporting school choice, Leatherman said he has not supported it in the past because the proposals “appear to ... take money out of our public school system, and we need all the money in the public school system we can get.”

Reach Self at (803)771-8658

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