Gov. Sanford introduces schooling options bill - - Columbia, South Carolina

Gov. Sanford introduces schooling options bill

(Columbia) March 2, 2004 - There are 550 students at Watkins-Nance Elementary and almost all are on free and reduced lunch.

Robinette Rankin would like to move her children to private school, "The one-on-one they have with the kids, I respect. The level of intelligence they expect, I respect." Mendarrus Washington would like five-year-old Essence to go too, "They have more one-on-one, they can learn better, if I had the money, I would put them there right now." Neither of them can afford the tuition.

Governor Sanford and Republican lawmakers like Rep. Doug Smith (R) Spartanburg, say the "Put Parents in Charge Act" will make that happen, "This empowers parents to be able to decide and be a part of their children's future." The money would go toward private education, home schooling or the cost of transferring a child to another school district.

The proposal would allow families making less than $75,000 a year to receive an education tax credit on property or income taxes. The credit would be anywhere from $2500 to $3700, depending on the grade. Children who qualify for free or reduced lunch could get up to 100% of the costs.

The money available would be about a third of what it would cost to go Columbia private schools like Heathwood Hall or Hammond. They cost between $10,000 and $11,000. Mendarrus says there's no way, "I need an extra $5000 to come into the house, but I don't have it to go out for right now."

Smith says most schools don't cost that much. The average is about $4000 across the state and parents can apply for scholarships and grants. Still, he admits those aren't guaranteed, "This is going to take some time to build, but I think it will be built."

Robinette says she'll apply if there is a chance, "At least someone is helping to meet me halfway. I think I can make the other half and that's my job as a parent."

Watkins-Nance Principal Dr. Evelyn Cohens says the bill would hurt her school, "We're limited in money now, so I see this as a way of pulling more money out of the public school system."

Rankin understands, but she also wants what's best for her kids, "I think it would benefit my children better. I think it would broaden their horizon's better."

Paul Krohne, executive director of the South Carolina School Boards Association, says the proposal is designed to financially benefit only a few. He says it would help fund private schools for a few and not public schools for all.

By Heather Brown
Updated 5:28pm by BrettWitt with AP

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