FILE SC Education Accounts

South Carolina Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, speaks during a debate over a bill that would allow parents to spend public money for private or out-of-district schools on March 30, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. 

(The Center Square) — The South Carolina House amended and passed a bill that would create a pilot educational savings account program in the state.

The amendment alters S. 935, which the Senate passed in late March, and now the amended bill will head back to the Senate for approval or to set up a conference committee on the final day of session.

The amended version, approved 66-38 by the House, would allocate $75 million to pay for up to 5,000 vouchers for students to attend any approved private or public school in the state worth a maximum of $5,000 apiece starting in the 2023-24 school year. The program would be approved for three years.

Any funds left in the program after three years would be returned to the state’s Contingency Reserve Fund.

"We are not taking any dollars from any public education system," Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said of the amendment. "It’s coming from our Contingency Reserve Fund. There are no dollars from any public program going into this public program."

To be eligible, students in kindergarten through eighth grade must be enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program or must be in a household with an income at or below the CHIP upper income limit.

Up to 500 children of active-duty military members will also be eligible. If more than 5,000 students apply for the scholarships, a lottery system will be used.

"The expenditure of these funds can go to tuition, fees from the school for enrollment, books and a transportation stipend," Erickson said.

The bill differs from the Senate version, known as the Put Parents in Charge Act. The original bill would've allowed for 5,000 scholarships in the 2023-24 school year before expanding to 10,000 in 2024-25 and 15,000 every school year thereafter.

To be eligible under the original version of the bill, students must be eligible for Medicaid, have a disability that requires an individual education plan or be a sibling living in the same household of a student who receives a scholarship.

The scholarships, which will pay for students to attend a private school or the expenses to attend a different public school, are worth the average amount of funding per student for the state’s public schools.

That would be $7,140 in the first year and $7,565 in 2025-26 for a total cost of up to $35.7 million in 2023-24 to $113.5 million in 2025-26. That funding will go from the school district where the student is enrolled to the ESA voucher.

Staff Reporter

Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.