(The Center Square) – The South Carolina Senate passed an educational scholarship account (ESA) bill and sent it to the House after a third reading Thursday.
S. 935, dubbed the Put Parents in Charge Act, would allow for 5,000 scholarships in the 2023-24 school year before expanding to 10,000 in 2024-25 and 15,000 every school year thereafter.
It passed, 25-15, on second reading Wednesday after seven hours of discussion and amendments, and was given a third reading in the Senate on Thursday.
“I think the people who are going to take advantage of this are people who really care about their children and about their children’s education,” said sponsoring Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
To be eligible, students must be eligible for Medicaid, have a disability that requires an individual education plan (IEP) or be a sibling living in the same household of a student who receives a scholarship.
The scholarships, which will pay for students to attend a private school or the expenses to attend a different public school, are worth the average amount of funding per student for the state’s public schools.
That would be $7,140 in the first year and $7,565 in 2025-26 for a total cost of up to $35.7 million in 2023-24 to $113.5 million in 2025-26. That funding will go from the school district where the student is enrolled to the ESA voucher.
The bill was amended to require students in third- through eighth-grade in the scholarship program to take the same achievement tests as public-school students. High school students can take a national test.
“The scholarship students should take the same test,” Massey said. “They ought to take the same tests because it is important to be able to evaluate the success of the program.”
Oran Smith, senior fellow at the Palmetto Promise Institute, applauded the bill’s passage.
“This is a sea-change from two decades of seeing choice bills languish in committee year after year,” Smith said. “The passage of S.935 by such a strong margin is a huge boost going into consideration by the House. Very soon, previously marginalized students will have the opportunity to be their best selves by enjoying real educational options tailored to their unique needs.”