It’s School Choice Spring!

March 16, 2023
Wendy Damron's Photo - President and CEO

Wendy Damron

President & CEO

With a Certified Public Accountant now at the helm of Palmetto Promise Institute, it is time to step up our numbers game!

So, are you ready for a bit of simple “Education policy math”?

To build our equation, consider events this week at the South Carolina Statehouse…

  • On the Senate side, a tax credit scholarship bill providing over $50 million per year in grants for all types of at-risk students to attend independent schools in South Carolina passed by a whopping 28-9. This is on top of Senate passage of the Education Scholarships Account (ESA) act last month that will eventually provide $90 million per year in grants for all types of educational options—from independent schools to tutoring. 
  • The House of Representatives passed a 2023-24 appropriations bill (state budget) this week. That budget provides $12 billion in public school funding.

If my calculator is right, that means—

  • $50 million + $90 million = $140 million in private choice that is in play.
  • If we divide by the $12 billion (“12 thousand million”) in public school appropriations, then…
  • …that means private school choice will make up 1.17% of public school appropriations in the third year of the choice programs assuming both bills pass the full General Assembly. 

Again, the figure is 1.17%.

But that 1.17% of choice for the most vulnerable among us was too much for the floor leader of Senate opposition, Senator Mike Fanning. Fanning proclaimed: “we are helping 5% of the population and neglecting 700,000 kids in South Carolina…we are passing bills that no educator has asked for.”

Neglect? Well, first of all, South Carolina’s highest per pupil expenditures in our region (NC, TN, FL, GA) could not be considered neglect. Neither could the increase in pay for teachers, tutors, facilities, school buses, technology, security, and school resource officers found in the House version of the 2023-24 state budget.

Getting back to the math, here’s one last set of figures for you:

  • The projected average per pupil public school district spending level in the House version of the state appropriations bill is $17,555
  • The ESA bill funds private scholarships at $6,000 per student. 
  • The Tax Credit scholarship bill funds private scholarships at approximately $8,200-$11,000 per student. 
  • According to a 2018 Palmetto Promise Institute survey, the median cost of a South Carolina independent school education is $5,210 in tuition and fees.

The bottom line of all of these calculations is that the school choice spring we are enjoying from the South Carolina Senate makes mathematical sense. Soon, the South Carolina House will be stepping up to the plate. We expect more good news. Stay tuned.