Universal ESA Bill Passes South Carolina House

March 20, 2024

MARCH 20, 2024

Universal ESA Bill Passes South Carolina House 

Income and Previous Public School Attendance Requirement Removed 

COLUMBIA — By a vote of 69-32, the South Carolina House of Representatives today gave second reading to H. 5164, a bill that, if signed into law, would expand the state’s new Education Scholarship Trust Fund (ESTF) program. The existing ESTF program allows parents of eligible K-12 students to use an online portal to direct state trust funds to education service providers approved by the State Department of Education. The 2024-25 ESTF funds 5,000 scholarships at $6,000. The application window for those scholarships closed last week, and the enthusiastic application numbers clearly show that South Carolina families want school choice. Nearly 8,000 student applications were submitted for 5,000 slots, coming from every single county in the state.  

H.5164, passed by the House today, converts the existing ESTF program to a universal model by removing requirements that students must have attended public school the previous year and come from a family earning at most 200% of the federal poverty limit. The new bill also removes the 15,000 student cap after the third year of the program and replaces it with language that would allow the program to grow based on demand, which would be annually reflected in the state budget. Palmetto Promise Senior Fellow Dr. Oran Smith testified in favor of H.5164 earlier this month. 

“This action by the South Carolina House today is a bold response to South Carolinians’ overwhelming demand for universal school choice. Just yesterday, a new poll found that 75% of South Carolina voters support the adoption of universal education savings accounts (ESAs),” said Palmetto Promise Institute President Wendy Damron. “We are proud to see the Palmetto State join 11 other states that have a universal choice program.” 

Palmetto Promise Institute introduced the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) concept to South Carolina in 2015 and has long championed the flexibility it offers parents as they seek ways to customize an education for their children. The House-passed bill offers 15 different categories of expenses from which parents may choose including tutoring, therapy, and tuition—recognizing that each child is unique and requires education services tailored to those needs. Palmetto Promise Institute wishes to thank bill sponsors Speaker Murrell Smith, Education Chair Shannon Erickson, and Representative Jeff Bradley for their hard work getting this transformative legislation over the finish line. 


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