By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org
Special needs students in South Carolina can take advantage of grants to help with education under a budget proviso that will go into effect in January, when the new tax year begins.
Individuals and corporations can claim tax credits for donations made to scholarship-granting organizations, which can then provide scholarships and financial help with textbooks and transportation to families sending special needs students to qualifying private schools. The Friedman Foundation provides details on the program.
“The more options we can give parents, the better off our education system will be. That includes traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican from Berkeley, S.C., who sponsored broader school choice legislation that failed to make it out of committee.
Grooms said he plans to continue fighting for school choice in his state. Since South Carolina allows the government to be involved in funding private preschools, kindergartens, and colleges, it shouldn’t make exception for first through 12th grades, he said.
Because of the way the state’s fiscal year, tax year, and academic years line up, the opportunity is only available from January through June 2014. But Neil Mellen, founder of Access Opportunity SC, said it’s likely the proviso will be renewed when the fiscal year begins in July, or enshrined in law.
“They could choose to revoke the program, so these disabled kids now able to attend the school of their parents’ choice would be thrown back into the situation they were in, but that’s really unlikely,” he said.
In South Carolina, a majority of voters rank school choice as an important issue, but “there’s been a little bit of a disconnect between how highly voters rank the issue and the attitudes of some of the lawmakers, particularly in the Senate,” Mellen said.
The budget proviso was “smart, tight, and transparent,” he said, which helped it pass – in addition, it’s hard for a legislator to turn down aid for special needs students.
“It’s very difficult for a lawmaker to say voting against some of the students with the most challenges in their life was more important than whatever the reason they opposed it,” he said.
Grooms said he hopes to expand the program to include students from low-income families, and possibly more South Carolina families, too.
“We offer tax credits for a number of things in our state. You can buy an electric vehicle and receive a tax credit. You can put solar panels on your house and receive a tax credit. If you donate to a scholarship granting organization, you can’t receive a tax credit. I’m trying to change that,” he said.
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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