Bill would give parents choices for child's educational needs

First Byline: 
Jared Guadagni - Staff Writer

Making their voices heard, a group of Barnwell County residents headed to the State house to speak with lawmakers in support of a bill.

The Education Opportunity Act - Senate Bill 520 - would provide parents with education choices for their children.

If the bill passes, it will allow parents to home school a child or send him or her to a private or charter school by providing parents with, on average a $2,500 state tax credit per child, said Neil Mellon, the communications director for South Carolinians for Responsible Government.

Children of low-income families would be eligible for tuition scholarships as well, said Mellon.

"Every child is different and has their unique challenges and strengths," said Mellon. "The ‘one size fits all' method of public education works for some - but not all."

And that is also the sentiment of Apostle Belton Williams of Greater Faith Ministries in Barnwell.

Williams - along with 32 others from his church - traveled to Columbia March 11 to show lawmakers they support the bill.

"We can't better our children if we don't put something in action to help make things better," said Williams.

The occasion marked the fourth time Williams has been to Columbia to support the bill.

Judy Dunbar of Williston was one of the 32 who made the journey to Columbia.

She said she took both her son and grandson out of public school when they experienced difficulties in the system.

"My son said he felt like his self-esteem was being taking away," Dunbar.

She enrolled him in a Christian school.

"They helped him bring his self-esteem back and now he's on the dean's list in college," said Dunbar. "I feel like every child should be able to go wherever he or she can to get the best education."

Selena Sender of Barnwell said there is a need for change in education and that is one of the reasons she traveled to the Statehouse.

"Our schools are overcrowded and we do have some good teachers - and then we have some who are just there," said Sender.

Mellon said parents who would like to provide educational options are penalized twice.

One time by paying property and sale taxes and and a second by paying for an alternative education for a child.

"Right now, the money in the state doesn't follow the child. But if this bill is passed. that money will follow the child," said Williams.

South Carolina spends about $12,000 per pupil funded by federal, state and local resources, according to the bill's sponsors, S.C. Sen. Robert Ford and Rep. Eric Bedingfield.

The bill aims to take half of what the state spends per pupil - about $2,500 on average - and offer it in the form of a tax credit for private or charter school tuition for parents.

Home schooled students would also qualify for a tax-credit and children of low-income from families who don't have tax liabilty would be eligible for tuition scholarships, said Mellon.

Mellon said the bill is not anti-public school.

It's founded on the concept that children learn differently and parents should have choices available to them in education, he said.

"It doesn't take money from public schools," said Mellon.

He said local property and sales taxes and federal funds are left untouched when a student transfers out of a public school.

Furthermore, a public school would then have more resources for less students, said Mellon.

The bill is currently sitting in the economic committee of the state senate and awaiting final revisions in the House of Representatives. A vote could be taken on the bill as early as this week, he said.

"I hope it passes," said Dunbar.