Here we go again with school vouchers. Conservatives at the Statehouse again are hellbent in approving vouchers, conveniently now called “education scholarship accounts,” to steal public education dollars to allow some K-12 students to get up to $6,000 to pay for private schools.

Think of it as the South Carolina Private School Subsidy Act. 

Let’s be clear: Stealing public education money for private schools is wrong and will only erode funding for public schools more, sending them into a slow downward spiral that takes away much-needed resources to help them thrive. Stealing money from a public school system that has suffered from decades of underinvestment is a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of students and parents who depend on public education to generate opportunities for better lives.

In 2020, a voucher measure was projected to draw more than $456 million from public school funds for 67,000 eligible private school students. Republicans claim a $6,000 voucher would empower low- and middle-income families to have more choice in education in allowing them to attend public schools. Hogwash — particularly when you consider that most private school education costs much, much more than average families can afford.

This year’s voucher effort, prefiled Nov. 30 by Berkeley County GOP Sen. Larry Grooms as Senate Bill 39, spent a whopping one day in the Senate Education Committee last week before being reported to the Senate floor. It will be a hot topic this week.

As the S.C. Education Association’s Sherry East reminded us, the proposal won’t help most children in South Carolina schools.

“Cloaked in language like ‘choice’ and ‘scholarship,’ this bill attempts to create the illusion that it is providing opportunity,” she said. “However, the reality of the bill removes opportunity from many children by taking sorely needed funds from the schools and institutions that must accept, welcome and educate all children.”

Republicans have been trying since Mark Sanford was governor to pass this elitist proposal to help South Carolina’s wealthier parents to the detriment of just about everyone else. 

As observed in 2012 in sister publication Statehouse Report, public schools offer plenty of choices to parents, but Republican lawmakers who are laser-focused on using public money for private schools are in a blind trance. “Not only are there a plethora of charter schools all over the state, but there are magnet schools and programs, vocational tracks, Montessori-style instruction, online schools, arts-based schools and more. To suggest that public schools don’t offer choices to parents is outright wrong.”

If the General Assembly is unwise enough to approve vouchers this year, there will be spinoff effects, such as a likely constitutional challenge. Another likelihood: use of the state’s Freedom of Information Act to private schools that take public money to make sure they use the money properly.

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