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State senators consider open enrollment for public schools

The latest bill in the "school choice" initiative aims to allow families to pick which public school to attend in their district or in another district.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Debate on "school choice" continues at the South Carolina State House.

While some lawmakers are pushing for a bill that could allow families to get funding for private school, another bill has emerged that could allow families to enroll in other public schools outside their district.

"School choice" is a mission many lawmakers have taken up this year to give families more options in K-12 education. 

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Subcommittee met on a bill that’s receiving widespread support from educators.

"PSTA strongly supports the expansion of true school choice in South Carolina," said Executive Director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, Kathy Maness.

Teachers, the SC Association of School Administrators and the SC School Boards Association all showed support for S. 544 Wednesday.

"Our state should look for ways to provide these types of opportunities for all students. To do so, any vehicle for true choice must meet three criteria: It must be affordable, it must be accessible and it must be accountable," added Maness.

RELATED: DHEC urges South Carolina schools to use Test to Stay Program

S. 544 aims to require all school districts to have an open enrollment period where families can decide which school they’d like to join within their district or in another district.

"The idea is that students will be able to move without creating some sort of extra financial burden," explained former lawmaker and member of the Yes Every Kid organization, Anne Peterson Hutto.

Another bill lawmakers say promote school choice is S. 935. It could allow eligible families to apply for an education savings account to help pay for private school. However, many educators are against it because they say it provides little access and harms public school funding.

RELATED: GOP-backed bill could put state funding toward private school tuition

Some senators were concerned Wednesday with the open enrollment bill because it doesn't state what would happen to local funding for districts when a student moves.

“If we pass the bill the way it's introduced, what happens to the money," asked Chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Scott Talley. 

Senator Rex Rice added, “I think we’ve got a lot of discussion to go down that route.”

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Dwight Loftis, explained that state and federal funding would follow the child to their new school district, if they decide to take advantage of open enrollment. However, the bill doesn't address whether local funding would stay with the original, residential district or if it would also follow the student to the receiving district. The subcommittee plans to work that out before taking a vote. 

The subcommittee's next meeting on S. 544 has not been scheduled but it will meet on February 3rd to discuss S. 935.

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