COLUMBIA — The Education Oversight Committee has approved a dozen private schools for enrolling special-needs students under South Carolina’s first school-choice program.
Twelve S.C. private schools, so far, are approved to take part in the state’s first private-school choice program, which offers tax credits for private-school grants for special-needs children:
Anderson: Montessori School of Anderson
Charleston: Charleston Day School
Columbia: The Barclay School, Columbia Jewish Day School, Sandhills School
Florence: The King’s Academy
Greenville: Camperdown Academy, Fuller Normal Industrial Institute
North Augusta: Victory Christian School
Rock Hill: Westminster Catawba Christian School
Russellville: Miracle Academy Preparatory School
Sumter: St. Francis Xavier High School
The list will be updated weekly as additional schools provide the required documentation. They have no deadline, said Melanie Barton, executive director of the independent oversight agency.
Legislators passed the program as part of the current state budget. Beginning Jan. 1, people and businesses can claim dollar-for-dollar tax credits, not to exceed 60 percent of their total tax liability, for supporting private-school scholarships for children with disabilities. Their donations must go to nonprofit groups that hand out the scholarships. Three have organized to do so.
Eligible students can receive grants of up to $10,000 toward tuition, books and transportation. Any student with special needs is eligible for the scholarships, but the scholarship funding organizations will decide which of those eligible students receive scholarships.
The budget sets an $8 million limit on credits claimed. If donations exceed that, the Department of Revenue will allow credits on a first-come, first-served basis.
The schools approved so far are in Anderson, Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, North Augusta, Rock Hill, Russellville in Berkeley County and Sumter, The State newspaper reported.
The budget provision was a huge win for supporters of private school choice, who have tried unsuccessfully since 2004 to pass separate legislation that uses the tax code to help parents pay for private school tuition. Opponents worry the limited, one-year law will open the door for the broader effort.
For the program to continue after this school year, legislators must either insert it again into next year’s budget or approve it as a separate measure.
Participating schools must be members of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the state Association of Christian Schools or the state Independent Schools Association. They must use standardized tests to gauge students’ performance, prove they can accommodate special-needs students, and show they don’t discriminate.
Two of the three scholarship-granting nonprofits listed by the EOC plan to hand out grants for enrollment in religious schools.
Advance Carolina will help students attending member schools of the state Association of Christian Schools, said Edward Earwood, executive director of both groups. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which encompasses the entire state, will help students attending Catholic schools, said Jacqualine Kasprowski, an education director for the diocese and principal of Cardinal Newman School in Columbia.
Mount Pleasant-based Palmetto Kids First plans to help students attend private schools outside of those groups, said Jeff Davis, a tax attorney and consultant helping to set it up.
Because the nonprofits can’t accept donations until Jan. 1, the program won’t be able to help students for at least the first half of this school year.
Davis said Palmetto Kids First is taking donor pledges in hopes of being able to award scholarships for the second semester.
Diette Courrégé Casey of The Post and Courier contributed to this story.