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Commentary: Pandemic makes private-school choice more important than ever

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Nancy Mace (copy)

Nancy Mace

This is the time of year when parents and students alike anticipate and prepare to go back to school. We shop for supplies, perhaps some new clothes, we meet the teachers, and we dig in for a year of learning and fun. And we’re usually waiting in anticipation for that tax-free shopping day.

This year is very different, as it has been in many aspects of our lives.

This year many of us don’t know if or when our schools will return to normal. Will they be virtual? Part time? Full time? Should I be worried about sending my children back to school? What will their year and their learning look like? How can I work and school my children at home?

This uncertainty is running head-first into a government monopoly over education and its funding. It doesn’t matter much what parents and kids think. The decisions for your local school will be made by government officials and, in some other states, by unions.

Now, more than ever, this is wrong.

We should take this moment in time to stand up and say, there is a better way.

South Carolina has many wonderful public schools. We also have many great charter schools, private schools and a legion of homeschooling parents. I believe the time has come to change the way we think about how we fund education, and how we allow parents to determine where their kids are educated.

As a mother, I know when parents only have one choice, they have no choices.

But school choice is meaningless without choice in funding.

That’s why I’m supporting multiple proposals in Columbia and Washington that support private-school choice. Gov. Henry McMaster is using $32 million in COVID relief funds to offer private-school choice grants in our state. These are one-time scholarships for low-income students to attend a private school in 2020 if they wish.

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Many families already have that option, but low-income students and parents are left out and forced into schools that are not performing well or even adequately or simply do not work for them.

I also applaud U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who recently introduced the School Choice Now Act, which provides $5 billion in scholarship aid to allow people to use for the private school of their choice, along with provisions ensuring use for homeschooling.

I also support legislation whereby all federal dollars are provided to parents, not education bureaucrats. In this scenario, parents decide which school receives your tax dollars, not the federal government, not your ZIP code, not your income level. Parents are free to choose the public, charter, private or home schooling situation that works best for their family. This is especially needed during these difficult times.

As a single working mother of two school-age children, I know the challenges virtual or part-time school would cause many households, including my own. I also know many parents who do not want to send their children to school because they worry about health and safety issues. Imagine if those federal dollars helped you educate your children at home or supported virtual or home school with additional resources outside traditional school.

We should make it easier for parents to make these educational decisions. We can help parents get their children back to school, or help them home school or virtual school, or whatever choice they make for their children.

Our congressman, Joe Cunningham, doesn’t agree. He tweeted his opposition to Gov. McMaster’s plan. In other words, he wants to deny parents and children the best educational opportunities and outcomes during the largest, most unprecedented crisis of our lifetime.

This is what I call a colossal failure of leadership, and an example of being beholden to special interests and government bureaucrats instead of working for parents and students. It makes no sense.

I’ll stand up for educational opportunities for our children and for parents across the Lowcountry in Congress.

These unprecedented times demand it.

State Rep. Nancy Mace is the Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat.

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