Sen. Tim Scott files school choice bill

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott hopes the Republican takeover of the Senate gives his School Choice Act a better chance of passing.

Scott refiled the bill Tuesday to coincide with the new term of Congress. It is similar to the effort he filed last year meant to create greater educational options on military bases, among the disabled and in low-income neighborhoods.

The filing comes as school choice advocates across the country have declared this to be National School Choice Week. Scott, R-S.C., sponsored — and got passed — a school choice week resolution earlier this month in the Senate.

Meanwhile, hundreds gathered Tuesday in Columbia to back school choice options in South Carolina. The rally included a one-block march of students and supporters who traveled from a hotel downtown to the Statehouse.

Gov. Nikki Haley briefly addressed the group, reading a proclamation declaring this to be S.C. School Choice Week.

“We want to make sure that you and your parents can always choose the best way to be educated,” she also told the crowd.

By some estimates, as many as 11,000 choice support rallies, of all sizes, are being held across the country this week.

Scott’s bill is formally called the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act. It has multiple sponsors in the new Republican majority.

Among the bill’s offerings are that it:

Encourages states to establish school choice programs for students with disabilities by providing startup funds to support the design and initial implementation of a disability choice program.

Creates a pilot program under the Department of Defense on at least five bases that don’t have so-called Department of Defense Education Activity schools to provide scholarships to students in military families on base. They would reach up to $8,000 for elementary students and $12,000 for high school.

Expands the “DC Opportunity Scholarship Program,” which has served more than 5,000 low-income children in Washington, D.C., by requiring excess carry-over funds not needed for the continuation of current participants’ scholarships, to be used to increase promotion and outreach and support more scholarships.

While many conservatives back the choice in education movement, not all South Carolina education advocates are behind it. S.C. Education Association communications director Kristine Harvigsen said Tuesday the word “choice,” as mentioned by Scott and others, is considered to be code for supporting educational vouchers.

“We do not support directing public taxpayer money to private institutions,” she said. “These are really badly needed resources for public schools.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.