Statement of Palmetto Promise Institute on the Education Scholarship Accounts Awarded

May 15, 2024


MAY 15, 2024

COLUMBIA — This spring marked the first year of applications for South Carolina’s brand new Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program, the Education Scholarship Trust Fund. In the short two-month application window from January 15 to March 15, the South Carolina Department of Education received an astounding 7,907 applications for the program’s 5,000 scholarship spots. In breaking down the application data, Palmetto Promise was pleased to report that applications came from a diverse pool of South Carolinians, representing every single county, age, and racial group.

After reviewing the applications, the South Carolina Department of Education approved 2,880 students to receive these $6,000 scholarships, leaving 2,120 scholarship accounts unclaimed. Many of the rejections came from incomplete applications and missing documentation, no doubt indicating parents’ struggle to compile necessary documentation and submit complete applications in the narrow application window. Other applications were rejected due to exceeding the household income threshold, being outside the age limitations of the program, and, for a few, not meeting South Carolina residence requirements.

These rejections highlight the shortcomings of the existing ESTF program and the need for further ESTF expansion and flexibility. 

First and foremost, the strict two-month window for applications is impractical, and many applications were left incomplete or missing necessary documentation because parents struggled to meet the March 15 deadline. House Education Chairlady Shannon Erickson proposed and the House passed a budget proviso that would rectify this problem, allowing the Department of Education to take scholarship applications on a rolling basis until all the scholarship slots are filled. We hope to see the final state budget include this provision; it’s just common sense and ensures that all the funds the state has already allocated for ESTF scholarships are used.

Secondly, ESTF’s strict eligibility requirements create a barrier for families to access the scholarships. If a family were only a few dollars over the income cap (200% of federal poverty, or $62,500 for a family of four), they were found ineligible. Many families likely had no idea they exceeded the income limit, because ESTF income calculations include nontaxable income such as housing allowances (military, religious parsonage, etc.), alimony, and workers’ compensation. The narrow confines of the existing ESTF program leave a huge gap for many families who still need extra help affording customized education, disability therapy, or tutoring for their child. Families like these are why H.5164, which passed the House but unfortunately stalled in the Senate, is so important. The ESTF program needs to be expanded universally, with priority for those who need it the most, like lower-income and special needs students, while building in flexibility for families.

We are not discouraged by the rejected applications, because they prove what we have been saying for months: South Carolinians crave flexibility and customization in their children’s education. 7,907 took the time to fill out an application and embrace the promise of choice in education. Naturally, as the ESTF program rolls out for the first time, there will be bumps in the road, and the program will need further refinement from the General Assembly. We are confident the legislature will address these issues and expand flexibility and eligibility for ESTF applicants.

We should not lose sight of the victory: two thousand, eight hundred, and eighty South Carolina students are now able to choose the education that best fits them, an opportunity they likely could never have afforded otherwise. That alone is worth celebrating.


Palmetto Promise Institute (PPI) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational organization. PPI conducts public policy research dedicated to advancing a free and flourishing South Carolina, where every individual has the opportunity to reach their full potential.


Contact: Felicity Ropp

(803) 708-0673