COLUMBIA - South Carolina's first private school choice program is on hold until a state agency can evaluate the nonprofit organizations that want to hand out scholarships to special-needs students.
The State newspaper reports that four groups are seeking approval from the Education Oversight Committee to accept donations and provide scholarships. They cannot do anything until the committee verifies that they meet the qualifications that legislators required, which involve background and financial checks of board members.
The limited program, approved as part of the 2013-14 budget, was supposed to start Jan. 1. It will end in six months unless legislators extend it.
Two of the four applications, received Dec. 11 and Dec. 21, are still incomplete. The first application didn't arrive until Dec. 5. The agency hired an attorney a week later to conduct the evaluations, spokeswoman Dana Yow said Friday.
"We don't have the staff or personnel to do that," she said. "We needed someone to handle the checks and balances of what was required."
Under the program, people can claim dollar-for-dollar credits on their 2014 tax returns for donations made after Jan. 1 to the scholarship granting organizations. The Legislature capped the total credits allowed at $8 million.
More than 40 private schools - most of them in the Charleston, Greenville and Columbia areas - have been approved to enroll students receiving the scholarships, which are limited to special-needs students.
Jeff Davis with Palmetto Kids First, a Mount Pleasant-based scholarship organization, said his group has received $2 million in pledges, and checks are starting to come in, but he can't deposit them. He says up to 250 students are applying to receive some of the money.
According to the Education Oversight Committee, his group's application was received Dec. 15.
Other groups seeking to offer scholarships:
Advance Carolina would provide scholarships for students attending schools that are members of the state Association of Christian Schools. Its application was the first to arrive.
St. Thomas Aquinas, associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, would provide scholarships for students attending Catholic schools in the state. The EOC says the application lacks articles of incorporation from the secretary of state's office.
South Carolina Corporate Coalition for Community Service. The leader is Stephen Gilchrist, president of the state's African American Chamber of Commerce and a longtime supporter of school choice. According to the EOC, the group's application lacks information about its board members.