S.C. Senate panel advances private school choice bill

The (Columbia) StateMarch 13, 2014 

— A state Senate subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday aimed at clarifying South Carolina’s existing private-school choice program.

That program offers tax credits to taxpayers who donate money for grants for special needs students to go to private school.

The bill, if it passes, only would impact the current choice law that legislators passed last year. That bill sunsets after only a year as part of the state’s budget year that ends June 30. But, lawmakers said, the bill’s improved language could be included in the budget that takes effect July 1, which lawmakers are writing now.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, said lawmakers still may try to make the school choice program permanent – rather than renewing it, year after year, in the budget. But state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said he expects some senators would object to that.

The bill makes adjustments, recommended by the state Department of Revenue, to clarify the process of applying for a tax credit.

It also would make students eligible for scholarships after a medical professional says they need special education, instead of relying solely on a program, administered through public schools, for determining whether a child has special needs.

Lourie asked the panel to add language to the law that requires the nonprofits that give out grants prove students are eligible.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

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