The Buzz

SC Senate plan would create new private school-choice credit

SC State House

Some S.C. parents who pay private-school tuition could get up to $10,000 if changes to the state’s school-choice program become law.

The proposal, part of the state budget that the Senate is debating, would allow $4 million in refundable state tax credits to go to parents who pay private-school tuition for their special-needs children.

The tax credit would be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The credit also would be refundable, meaning taxpayers who owed no taxes would receive money back.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, a co-sponsor of the change, said the proposal would provide a way for parents to benefit from the state’s private-school choice program without going through a “middleman,” a reference to the nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations that parents now can apply to for private-school tuition grants.

S.C. taxpayers can claim credits for donations made to those nonprofits, which help special-needs children pay for private school. The credits can be used to reduce the amount that donors owe on their S.C. taxes by up to 60 percent.

The proposed change is “another foot in the door for providing school choice” to all S.C. children and “pushing choice at a broader level,” said Davis, an advocate of expanding private-school choice. “It is yet another front being opened up in this battle.”

The Senate proposal would commit $4 million to creating the new tax credit for parents who pay private-school tuition. It also could cut in half — to $4 million from $8 million — the amount of money that the nonprofit scholarship organizations have available to issue grants.

The changes come amid concerns about the scholarship program.

State tax officials are investigating claims some parents donate to the state’s most active scholarship organization in the expectation that their children will receive tuition grants from that group. If true, that would be an improper quid-pro-quo arrangement.

Davis said he hopes the House will add another $8 million to the program so that children who received scholarship grants from the nonprofit groups in the past could receive them again.

The S.C. School Boards Association opposes the private-school choice program, which uses public money for private schools.

“It’s a very slippery slope,” said Debbie Elmore, the association’s spokeswoman. Creating a new tax credit is “creating a new avenue for parents to get public money for private schools” – a method that “looks like a voucher.”

Greenville parent Patty Borm said she hopes lawmakers do not reduce the money available through the scholarship-granting program. She hopes to get a grant so her 10-year-old daughter, who has high-functioning autism, can attend private school next school year.

Borm, who went to the State House Tuesday to talk to lawmakers about the issue, said her family does not make enough money to be able to afford private-school tuition up front, meaning the parental tax credit would not work for her.

“If I could use the tax credit, then we could afford to pay tuition.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.