By Chad Connelly
There are few things that bring me more pleasure as Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party than praising our state’s elected officials for focusing on truly meaningful reforms. This past week, members of our State Senate did just that.
For over a decade, school choice has been a big part of the national dialogue on education reform. In fact, 22 other states currently have school choice programs. That number is growing year after year.
While these other states took the step toward more student-focused education systems, the South Carolina Senate managed to never even take a vote on whether or not South Carolina families should have the same options!
That all changed this past week, when Republican senators took control of the state budget process to make sure school choice finally got a fair hearing on the Senate floor.
Senator Larry Grooms deserves special commendation for his impassioned support of an amendment that offered scholarships to low-income and special needs students. Unfortunately, Senator Grooms’ bold amendment was voted down by a significant margin. It troubles me to say that nine Republicans joined Democrats in voting against an idea that has been a plank of the GOP Platform for over a dozen years.
Despite what some people would want you to believe, that vote was not the end of the debate over school choice. Senator Kevin Bryant rallied Senators to vote on a much more conservative school choice amendment that offers tuition scholarships to certain students with exceptional learning needs. I am pleased to say that the Senate voted to approve Senator Bryant’s amendment by a margin of 25-14. Equally encouraging is the fact that eight of the Republican senators who voted against the Grooms amendment joined the rest of the Republican senators to vote in support of a school choice amendment! I personally want to thank Senators Thomas Alexander, Larry Martin, Hugh Leatherman, Ronnie Cromer, Wes Hayes, John Courson, Billy O’Dell and Paul Campbell for their support on this historic vote.
While very limited in size and scope, the passage of the school choice amendment is a real victory for families in South Carolina. A majority of Senators worked together to make a statement about the need for parents — not bureaucrats — to have the final say in where a child attends school.
The fight isn’t over.
Members of the State House of Representatives will very shortly have the opportunity to take up the Bryant amendment in their own chamber. This is more than the opportunity to affirm the Senate’s vote on a small school choice amendment. it is an opportunity for leaders in the State House to urge even greater options for a wider number of families. After all, the House did pass a school choice bill last year that died in the Senate.
I am calling on Republican Senators and Representatives to work together to pass the most comprehensive education reform package the Palmetto State has ever seen. We have an obligation to make sure children have every opportunity to be in the classroom that really meets their learning needs. Now we have the perfect opportunity to make good on that obligation.
I look forward to our elected officials uniting behind policies that put students first.