COLUMBIA — Kelly Hanson Floyd's son was making top grades in his Myrtle Beach public school when she learned that he wasn't actually able to read or write at grade level. So Floyd set out to find a school that could meet his needs, and she settled on one.

The problem: It was about 100 miles away in Mount Pleasant.

For the last year, Floyd and her three sons, including her fifth-grader, Alex, who has dyslexia, have been living apart from her husband on weekdays. They rent a two-bedroom apartment in Mount Pleasant so Alex can attend Trident Academy, which specializes in learning disabilities.

"My husband and I now face a real dilemma: Do we send Alex back into a school system that we know doesn't work for him, or do we continue to borrow money to pay for Alex's education, sacrificing our future for his?" Floyd testified Thursday at Senate subcommittee hearing.

Floyd was among some 150 people at the Statehouse to argue their cases before a legislative panel considering two proposals that would change the way education is delivered in South Carolina.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, would provide an average tax credit worth about $2,500 toward the cost of private school tuition for each child and nearly $5,000 for a student with special needs.

It also would create a scholarship fund to accept donations to help low income families cover more of the tuition costs.

Two dozen people spoke in favor of the bill, including representatives of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston. About half that number testified about the harm they believe the tax credits would cause public schools by drawing needed resources away.

The second bill being considered by the subcommittee would require public schools to offer more instructional choices.

The panel did not take any action but expects next week to debate the proposals.

S.C. Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said the public school choice bill would accelerate the availability of innovative education programs. So far, public schools have more than 170 Montessori classrooms, nearly 6,000 students enrolled in the state's virtual school and 27,500 students learning in single-gender classes.

"These are meaningful choices for students and parents in schools that are fully accountable to the public for their academic performance, fully accountable and transparent to the public for their finances, and fully accessible to the public in terms of their admission policies," Rex said.

Col. Nathaniel Green of Eagle Military Academy in Summerville brought along several students to talk about their successes outside public schools.

He highlighted one graduate who tested below a fourth-grade level when he entered the academy as a sixth-grader. The boy's family did not have money for tuition, but the school took him in; and he went on to score a 1,300 on his SAT and now has a 3.4 grade point average at Trident Technical College, Green said.

"Failing schools are not failing schools," Green said. "Failing schools are failing students. Failing students are failing America."

Jim Warford, a former chancellor of Florida's public schools who is now executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, traveled to Columbia to warn the senators about the "fraud and waste and abuse" that he said came along with what he defined as a similar school choice program in Florida. He advised investing in more public school educational programs.

"Your choice is about how to provide choice," Warford said.

"I urge you to listen to this testimony and choose wisely. My experience is that you only have one choice."