COLUMBIA -- Families of children with disabilities failed Tuesday in a quest for state aid to help pay for private school education.
The loss is the first skirmish in what supporters of the proposal promise will be a crusade.
"We're fired up," said Laurie Pineda of Northeast Richland. "We'll be back."
She is among parents and officials at Glenforest School in West Columbia who are pushing the measure.
It would provide up to $4,500 in state aid yearly for such students, about a fifth of the cost at Glenforest.
"I'm doing this so my child has options," said Pineda, who enrolled her 10-year-old son, who has dyslexia, in the school after trying three Richland 2 public schools staffed with specialists for such students.
Pulling from 'underfunded' pot
But a legislative panel shelved the request for aid from Pineda and others amid concern over cost and complaints it could weaken public schools.
The aid would be "pulling from a pot that's already underfunded" amid tight state finances, Forest Lake Elementary School teacher Denise Webster said.
Most public schools do a good job helping such students, other educators and parents told the panel.
"Lives have changed because of service we have provided," said Ann Marie Taylor, a Kershaw County special education instructor and state teacher of the year.
The bill's defeat is rooted in wariness about opening the door to more state aid for nonpublic school students, a cause championed on a broader scale by Gov. Mark Sanford.
That much larger battle "has seeped into it," said the proposal's sponsor, Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston.
Members of a House Ways and Mean subcommittee rejected the proposal 3-2 despite a plea from Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, to assist families who want more for their children.
"Don't turn our backs on this opportunity," said Toole, a former Lexington 2 school board member. "Let's do what's right for these kids."
About 110,000 students with mental and physical disabilities attend public schools statewide, officials say. It's unknown how many would switch to private schools if aid were given.
Selling the proposal is going to take time to show what private schools can do better for students with disabilities, some lawmakers said.
"Both sides are right," said Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, a panel member who didn't support the measure. "Not everybody is happy with public schools."