After nearly eight years of hard work by Palmetto Promise Institute and many others, South Carolina has a brand new education freedom program on the way! Education Scholarship Trust Fund scholarships will be awarded beginning with the 2024-25 school year.
Here are some of the key details:
*The official name of the South Carolina program is the Education Scholarship Trust Fund (ESTF). The mechanism is known more generally across the United States as an Education Scholarship Account (ESA). ESTF/ESA passed the General Assembly as S.39 and became Act 8 (2023) on May 5, 2023 with an effective date of June 3, 2023. (Note: Though the enabling legislation has passed, the ESTF program is not yet operational. The application window for the 2024-25 school year is not yet open.)
*The Education Scholarship Trust Fund (ESTF) is a separate and distinct state fund the proceeds of which are used to create individual Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). A parent or guardian of an eligible child may apply for an account. If the account is approved, the parent or guardian will use an online portal to match the funds allocated to their child in the account with a wide array of approved education service providers and qualified expenses (see below).
*Student eligibility is based primarily on a family’s income. Over the first three years of the program, income eligibility expands from students whose family income is less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in the program’s first year to 300% of FPL in year two, to 400% of FPL in year three. (Two hundred percent of FPL for a family of four is approximately $60,000 according to 2023 guidelines.)
*To be eligible, the student must have attended a South Carolina public school during the previous school year or be entering kindergarten. Students who are homeschooled under the three options provided for in state law are not eligible.
*For school year 2024-25, the program is limited to 5,000 scholarships. That number increases to 10,000 scholarships in 2025-26 and 15,000 in 2026-27.
*Each ESA is worth $6,000.
*The Senate passed the bill (second reading) on January 31, 2023 by a vote of 28-15.
*The House passed the identical bill (second reading) on April 26, 2023 by a vote of 79-35.
*The Governor signed the legislation on May 4, 2023.
*The program will be administered by the State Department of Education and the Education Oversight Committee.
- tuition and fees of an education service provider;
- textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials including, but not limited to, any supplemental materials or associated online instruction required by either a curriculum or an education service provider;
- tutoring services approved by the department;
- computer hardware or other technological devices that are used primarily for a scholarship student’s educational needs and approved by the department or a licensed physician;
- tuition and fees for an approved nonpublic online education service provider or course;
- fees for approved:
- national norm-referenced examinations, advanced placement examinations, or similar assessments;
- industry certification exams; or
- examinations related to college or university admission;
- educational services for pupils with disabilities from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider including, but not limited to, occupational, behavioral, physical, and speech-language therapies;
- approved contracted services from a public school district, including individual classes, after school tutoring services, transportation, or fees or costs associated with participation in extracurricular activities;
- contracted teaching services and education classes approved by the department;
- fees for transportation paid to a fee-for-service transportation provider for the scholarship student to travel to and from an eligible provider as defined in this section, but not to exceed seven hundred fifty dollars for each school year;
- fees for ESTF account management by private financial management firms approved by the department; or
- any other educational expense approved by the department.