School Choice Bill

This week was a historic one for education in our state. The House Ways and Means Committee moved a new school choice bill to the House floor.

School choice has been a divisive issue in South Carolina for years. This year, more than 60 Republicans have sponsored the bill (only 63 votes are needed to approve legislation) and several other Republican Caucus members have said they support the bill.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White told the media this week that this legislation represents a home-grown version of a long-divisive issue that’s been fueled by out-of-state money.

This year’s bill, allows parents to take a $4,000 tax deduction per child for tuition paid, $2,000 for home-school expenses, and $1,000 if you send your child to a public school outside of your home district. There is no phase-in for parents who already qualify, and everybody can claim the deduction beginning next year.

It also allows people or companies to claim tax credits for donating to nonprofits that give scholarships to poor, disadvantaged, or disabled students. But the legislation also caps the total amount the state can credit – the total amount can’t exceed $10 million for scholarships awarded to students, and $15 million for students who qualify for school lunch programs (a measure of poverty in our schools).

To combat the argument that private schools are not accountable to the state, the legislation also includes a requirement that private schools that accept the state money must post standardized test results online.

The cost of the plan is a fraction of previous years’ proposals, but because it is not law yet, it has not been figured into the House budget that we will debate next week. We will put the cost into the budget if it is approved by the Senate.

As we prepare to debate the state budget next week, there was one other item that caused a stir when the governor made some erroneous comments about tax relief in the proposed House budget.

This year, there is more than $540 million in tax relief, and since voters gave control of the House to Republicans in 1994, we have approved more than $20 billion in tax cuts – and those are only the tax cuts that have made it through the state Senate.

Next week, the Caucus will unveil a tax reform package that goes far beyond anything proposed by the governor. It is a comprehensive plan that eliminates two-thirds of the special interest sales tax exemptions, lowers the sales tax, flattens the personal income tax, and cuts corporate property taxes. We hope the governor can see past the politically expedient soundbite and support the House in our efforts to make our tax code more fair to the individual taxpayer and more productive for job growth.

Each of the bills in our tax reform package will require much help from citizens across the state, as well as our governor, to get through the state Senate this year.

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