Horse racing, teacher raises, and a budget flush with cash. South Carolina lawmakers have plenty to debate before the legislative session ends June 15. But parents hope legislators don’t bolt for home before finally offering K-12 students more quality learning options.
Recently, the S.C. House of Representatives flew through budget negotiations, completing the process in a matter of hours. They approved a proposal containing billions in new federal taxpayer spending, along with provisions that boost teacher pay and give bonuses to state employees.
Lawmakers in both chambers are also considering legalizing gambling on horse racing as yet another way to increase state revenue. But while they debate the merits of racetrack betting, South Carolina parents and K-12 students are left sitting in the stands, waiting for state officials to wager that families know what is best for a child’s future.
Lawmakers are considering proposals to allow students to use education savings accounts to choose how and where they learn. As readers of reimaginED will know, some residents in neighboring North Carolina can already use their child’s portion of state education spending to meet a child’s unique learning needs. Those funds, deposited in individual accounts, may be used to purchase textbooks, hire a personal tutor, find an education therapist, pay private school tuition, and more.
The education savings accounts allow families in North Carolina (and 10 other states, including Florida, with similar account options) to customize their child’s learning experience. Parents and students can choose a new school and get help with challenging coursework and pay for textbooks and learning materials to challenge their student or help them catch up to their peers.
While S.C. representatives finished the budget in record time this year, they have continued to drag their feet in bringing education savings accounts to state families. Since 2017, lawmakers in North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Indiana have managed to enact the accounts for their constituents. Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arizona lawmakers had already made the accounts available to thousands of students.
Despite all this progress elsewhere, movement in the South Carolina legislature has stalled over the years.
Currently, South Carolina lawmakers are considering two proposals—one in each chamber—that would give families and their students quality education opportunities similar to the accounts in these other states.
The proposal before state senators, in particular, would give students a range of choices, like the accounts described in North Carolina, Florida, and elsewhere. The Senate proposal would let students choose a new school and/or a set of services, including personal tutors and computer hardware to help with online course delivery. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have the chance again to complete what can only be considered unfinished business for state families.
South Carolina students need help now. In one of the state’s largest cities, Greenville, the number of students earning failing grades reportedly tripled in 2020. Student achievement among those attending schools along the I-95 corridor–the subject of much discussion in recent years due to litigation over South Carolina education spending—still trail statewide averages, according to Palmetto Promise Institute research. Statewide, there is a 30-point difference between white students and black students in 4th grade reading.
The need for action, for viable education options, is urgent.
State families should not have to wait another year to see how many other states create account options for K-12 students before South Carolina acts. Lawmakers showed they can move quickly to formulate a budget. They should apply the same urgency to helping students.