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South Carolina Senate considers education scholarships for low-income students

Senate Bill 935 could give $6,000 of state money to students that are low-income or have special education needs to help pay for school costs.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Senate is considering a bill that could give some families money for school costs, including private school tuition.

Supporters of the bill call it an effort to expand school choice in the state but senators opposed to the measure disagree.

Midlands parent Rusty Williams told News19 he thinks school choice, "would bring accountability to schools and make them much more effective.”

He said he's not familiar with Senate Bill 935 but supports legislation that gives families more options, saying it could improve schools. “I just see it as a challenge to make education better for everybody,” said Williams.

The bill debated at the State House Thursday could create scholarship funds for students that are low-income or have special education needs. “We’re giving opportunity to a poor child in South Carolina that does not have an opportunity now,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said in a one-on-one interview.

The Republican from Edgefield explained that eligible kids could be awarded $6,000 from the state to use on tuition and fees for public or private school, textbooks, tutoring, transportation, behavioral therapy, and more.

RELATED: School choice efforts gain movement in the South Carolina Senate

However, Senators Marlon Kimpson and Mike Fanning spoke against the bill at length during the Thursday session. Both Democrats worry the costs of private school tuition don’t give low-income students much choice at all:

“This is a bill to support lower income students who wish to go to private school," Kimpson said to Fanning. "But did you know I gave you numbers for private schools in Charleston and they're $15,000 a year?" Fanning responded, "and that's just for kindergarten.”

Fanning also raised concerns about lack of protection for kids with disabilities that apply to private schools with the scholarship. “There is nothing in the bill from prohibiting a private school from rejecting you solely because you have a disability," Fanning said to senators. "If we’re gonna let you qualify because you have a disability then at least we shouldn’t let you be rejected for the very reason you qualify.”

However, Massey told News19 he doesn’t want to require private schools to accept all scholarship applicants because they might not be the right fit. He pointed to schools that are designed to help students with dyslexia as an example: 

“There are some private schools that cater, focus on specific disabilities but not every disability... But if you say ‘you have to accept everybody,’ then you’re going to bog them down so they can’t focus on what their specialties are.”

If the bill becomes law, scholarships could be awarded to 5,000 kids for the 2023 – 2024 school year.

Senators will continue their debate on March 29.

RELATED: South Carolina Senate debates private school choice for poorer students

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