South Carolina passes its first school choice bill following two-decade push

A child’s zip code should never determine the access that they have to a quality education.

Add South Carolina to the list of states rapidly advancing school choice programs in 2023. The State House just passed a bill that will allow all students to attend the public school of their choice starting this fall.

Advocates for more opportunity in the school system have been working to pass numerous school choice models in the state for almost two decades. And while this legislation does not go as far as others that would allow parents to take their tax dollars to any educational institution of their choosing, it is still an excellent step in the right direction.

Even more promising is the fact that the bill passed the house with bipartisan support. The final vote was 91-25 with seven Democrats voting in favor and only two Republicans opposing it.

If it becomes law, the bill would allow open enrollment in public schools so long as there was space on their books. Transfers within the assigned school district would be free while state and federal per-student spending would follow the child to schools outside their original borders. Districts would be able to charge students from outside their zoned area, but no more than what they already spend per child through local property taxes.

The open enrollment policies would be left up to local school boards, which would be provided with a state template that guides them on how parents can set their preferences, creating potential waiting lists or lottery systems, and collecting fees for out-of-district transfers.

“Public schools are available for the public and having a ZIP code decide where to go is not the best choice for a lot of children,” said House Education Chairwoman Shannon Erickson. “When we have the availability to have those choices available, we should do that for the public good.”

While opponents of school choice continue to fear-monger against these programs and argue that they’ll strip poor districts of their funds, it’s actually the students in those districts that would suffer the most without options. Throwing more money at the problem simply will not fix public schools. We already spend an average of $15,000 per kid per year in the schools, which is quite a bit more than the median cost of private schools in the South.

The only thing that can fix the school system is breaking the government’s monopoly on education and reintroducing free market elements to the picture, like competition and buyer’s options. This legislation would ensure that public schools at least have to compete with one another for students and their dollars.

A child’s zip code should never determine the access that they have to a quality education. By allowing kids to at least pick the school with the best opportunities for them within the public sector, we ensure that students’ futures are not determined by the social class or neighborhood they were born into.

Candace Carroll, the State Director for Americans for Prosperity in South Carolina said, “Parents across South Carolina and the country are demanding more of a say in their child’s education. These reforms will help families choose an educational option that makes the most sense for their children and help students reach their full potential. I commend the House for approving legislation that will put South Carolina students first, and urge the Senate to move the bills quickly as well.”

If we’re going to forcefully take money from Americans to fund the education system, the best we can do is ensure they have some say in how they access the proceeds of their own money. Measures like this will ensure we stop gambling with children’s lives as we work to reform the system, and they will force lower performing districts to get their act together and offer better services if they want to stay afloat.

Hannah is a consultant for Americans for Prosperity, which works on these issues.

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Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox is a libertarian-conservative writer and co-founder of BASEDPolitics. She's also the host of the BASEDPolitics podcast and an experienced political activist.