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SC Senate debates school choice bill

Under the proposal, children with special needs or who qualify for Medicaid could receive up to $6,000 a year for educational expenses.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina once again debated a bill Tuesday that would allow parents to spend public money on private schools. 

The "Put Parents in Charge Act," made it through the House and Senate last year, but the two chambers could not reach a compromise.

It would allow for up to $6,000 a year to be used toward private school tuition, internet access, electronics, textbooks, and transportation.  

The bill would create education savings accounts for up to 5,000 students in the first year. By the third year, it would increase to 15,000 students.

The program could cost up to $90 million annually, depending on how many students participate and how much lawmakers allocate in the state budget. 

"If we're only going to do this for 15,000 students and we're trying to solve a problem for three-fourths of a million students, why do it?," said Sen. Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield). 

"If we pass it and it works, we don't quit and go, 'Hey, we finished. Let's all go home early.' That's not what's going to happen," said Sen. Greg Hembree. "We still have a lot of work to do, and it's going to be dynamic."

The program would be managed by the South Carolina Department of Education. 

Senators will continue to propose changes to the bill and ultimately vote on it later this week. 

The bill will then head over to the House for approval. 

House Speaker Murrell Smith has also proposed a constitutional amendment that would help open up funding for private schools. 

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