ESAs Win the Big Dance – Now Make Them Universal!

April 25, 2024

Palmetto Promise Team

Thank you to everyone who voted the last few weeks on our Greatest Policy Win bracket! It has been a fun chance to reflect on the impact Palmetto Promise has had in South Carolina over the last 11 years. What a journey it has been!

It was a tough battle, but in the end, Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) won the big dance and have been named our Policy Champion!

Palmetto Promise first introduced the ESA concept to South Carolina nearly a decade ago and played a key role in the years-long fight for passing ESA legislation. Finally, last year, South Carolina’s Education Scholarship Account bill passed the General Assembly and was signed into law. This marked a pivotal moment for the school choice movement in South Carolina. More families than ever before will be able to afford choice in their children’s education.

During the first year’s application window this spring, we saw overwhelming interest and support for ESAs. For only 5,000 scholarship slots with strict limitations on income and prior public school attendance, the Department of Education still received nearly 8,000 ESA applicationscoming in from every county in the state and representing an extremely diverse population.

The message is extremely clear: South Carolinians want school choice.

Education scholarship accounts are, as Superintendent Ellen Weaver likes to say, “the education ecosystem of the future.”

It is time for the General Assembly to respond to this clear demand for school choice and take the next step to expand South Carolina’s ESA program to a universal system. 

With a universal ESA program, South Carolina parents will have the opportunity to tailor their children’s education to meet the individual needs of each child. Education should never be a one-size-fits-all model, and every single South Carolinian deserve the opportunity to choose the best education possible for their specific child.

In 2023, eight states adopted universal ESA programs for the first time. So far in 2024, we have seen the momentum for school choice continue nationwide. Alabama has adopted a universal ESA program, Georgia and Wyoming have enacted their first ESA programs, and Indiana and Utah have further expanded their existing ESAs.

South Carolina should be next.

As Dr. Oran Smith wrote earlier this month, “South Carolina families are hungry for the opportunity that school choice represents.”

The universal expansion bill, H.5164 now resides in the Senate, with only six legislative days left until sine die. We hope the Senate will heed South Carolinians’ calls for school choice and prioritize universal expansion.