FreedomWorks activists urged senators on Tuesday to pass school choice reform legislation before the end of the session so South Carolina parents will have the freedom to choose schools that they say will best meet their child's need.
"We want freedom," Myrtle Beach Tea Party chairman Joe Dugan said. "Freedom to get the best education for our children so that they can become productive members of our society and not be a burden on our society."
"The public school monopoly has failed us and we want other choices."
Dugan criticized the amount of money that is actually spent in the classroom at public schools and superintendent salaries.
"They build their own empires with wasteful administrative costs that steal precious dollars from our children that need the help the most."
Dugan along with other Tea Party members from around the state, Senator Larry Grooms, R-Berkley, and Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, called on senators to pass a school choice bill that would "empower families" to choose other options for educating their child.
In March with a vote of 65-49, the House passed bill H.4894, which would provide income tax deductions to parents whose child attends a private school, home school or public school outside the home school district.
The bill also “authorize a credit against a taxpayer’s income tax liability or certain other tax liability for contributions made to nonprofit scholarship organizations that provide grants for children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, who are exceptional needs children or whose families meet the requirements for federal Medicaid benefits to attend private schools of their choice.”
Now it's the Senate's turn to vote.
"We don’t want school choice to pass the Senate by a slim margin, but we’ll accept that," Dugan said. "What we do want, is school choice to pass by an unanimous vote of the Senate."
Duane Hartgrove, vice chairman of the Columbia Tea Party, agrees the public school system is failing and legislators needed to give parents more options.
“We’ve got kids going to $200 million schools in this state,” Hartgrove said. “We’ve got kids going to decrepit schools. “Its just not right. There are a lot of people in this state that would like to send their kids to Christian schools (or) private schools."
"They ought to have a benefit of a tax credit."
Bedingfield said while public schools worked for him and his family, he doesn't think public schools will work for all and that's why he supports giving parents school choice.
"It works because my wife and I are constantly involved in their day-to-day education," Badingfield said. "It doesn’t work for families who aren’t involved in their children’s education. It doesn’t work for families who are somewhat apathetic about the education process."
"What I believe school choice does is empower parents, give them a feeling of control."
Opponents of the bill say it would take away $37 million from public schools.
Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, said he was concerned about shifting state money to private schools that aren't required to operate on the same criteria as public schools, according to his capitol report published in The Cheraw Chronicle.
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