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WEEK IN REVIEW: Expanded voucher program heading to S.C. Senate

S.C. House Republicans gave key approval Wednesday to a bill expanding a program allowing parents to spend taxpayer money on private and home-school education – even though a pilot program has yet to begin and the state Supreme Court is still weighing whether it is constitutional.

The measure passed 69-32 Wednesday with all but two Republicans voting in favor of the bill and every Democrat voting in opposition. The bill moved to the state Senate Thursday after a routine final House vote.  The proposal is expected to face tougher hurdles.

In 2023, the General Assembly passed what it called the education scholarship trust fund program with a cap of $6,000 for up to 5,000 students, according to an Associated Press report. The money can go toward tuition, transportation, supplies or technology at private schools or public schools outside a student’s district. Within three years, the current program would cap eligibility to 15,000 students in families with income of $120,000 or less per year. Last year’s measure, which created a pilot program that could cost $90 million a year, is being challenged as unconstitutional and awaits a ruling from the S.C. Supreme Court.

But this year, the separate House-passed proposal would open the program to all students and set the amount given to parents to rise along with spending per public school student. The potential cost?  More than $1 billion.  This year’s House bill also would expand the aid to home-schools. It also would eliminate state audits for private schools getting the money and would not require them to give their students the same standardized tests as public school students.

House Democrats suggested several changes to the bill, such as keeping the amount the state Education Department can collect to pay a private firm to run the program at 2% instead of an increase to 5% or requiring private schools to certify they didn’t raise prices for voucher students. All of their amendments were rejected.

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