South Carolina lawmakers fail to pass school voucher bill despite having votes

South Carolina Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, who chaired numerous subcommittee hearings on the education choice bill, called the elimination of a requirement that scholarship recipients take the same end-of-course tests as traditional public school students a “deal breaker” for him.

Editor’s note: This article appeared today on thestate.com.

After roughly two decades of fruitless deliberation over voucher programs, South Carolina lawmakers appeared finally to be on the verge of expanding school choice this year.

The House and Senate, energized by a wave of frustration over pandemic-era education policies, passed companion bills to establish a scholarship fund that select parents could tap for their children’s educational expenses, including private school tuition.

Republican lawmakers were in broad agreement that low-income children whose needs were not being met by public schools should be afforded their choice of private education options on the public dime. It was just a matter of deciding how best to smooth out the differences between the House and Senate plans to accomplish that.

The House favored a three-year pilot program that would take $75 million from the state’s contingency reserve fund to provide annual $5,000 scholarships to 5,000 low-income elementary-age students. The Senate wanted a permanent program open to a larger, but still limited number of K-12 students who were Medicaid-eligible or had an individualized education plan.

Under the Senate plan, parents could use money earmarked for K-12 public schools — $6,000 annually per scholarship recipient — to pay for a variety of educational expenses.

The joint panel tasked with hammering out a compromise voucher bill was optimistic its report would be adopted, as such reports often are, but their plans hit a fatal snag when lawmakers returned to Columbia last week for a one-day special session to finalize the budget and resolve differences between competing versions of adopted bills.

The compromise voucher bill passed the House without discussion and had enough support to clear the Senate also, but never got a vote in the upper chamber. The Senate’s decision to adjourn without voting on the bill effectively killed it for the year.

“Voucher Bill DEAD!” Sen. Mike Fanning, a Fairfield Democrat and ardent school voucher opponent, triumphantly tweeted moments after the Senate adjourned last week. “HUGE News!”

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