Columbia, S.C. - South Carolina Republicans are making school choice a top priority this legislative session, seeking to create taxpayer-funded programs to help parents pay for religious and other private educational alternatives. However, a 19th century amendment to the state Constitution stands in the way, threatening to derail the effort. On Tuesday, House Republicans took the first step to remove the potential roadblock to a long-sought policy.
With an 83-27 vote, the South Carolina House got the two-thirds majority necessary to put the amendment on the ballot at the next general election, allowing voters to strike the ban on direct state aid to religious or other private educational institutions. This move is a win for parents who want more opportunities for their children and for allowing their tax dollars to follow their child to the school of their choice.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster filed a lawsuit in 2021 after the constitutional provision, commonly known as the "Blaine Amendment," held up his attempt to direct federal COVID-19 relief toward the state's private, independent, and religious schools. Conservative groups backing McMaster's challenge have noted the provision's bigoted origins. In 1875, U.S. Rep. James Blaine sought to prevent public funding to "sectarian" schools during a time of widespread anti-Catholic prejudice.
Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg, who has supported the removal of a statue of former governor Ben Tillman from Capitol grounds, said lawmakers should not equate the modern-day impact with the historic origins. Democrats opposed opening the door for the state to direct taxpayer money to private schools, arguing that state funds would be better spent bolstering the public education system.
However, the referendum idea provides a way for voters to have a say in where their tax dollars go. Parents should have the right to choose where their children receive an education, whether that be a public or private school. Until the public education system is fixed, parents should not be denied the opportunity to provide their children with a quality education.
House Speaker Murrell Smith dismissed charges of hypocrisy in passing a "constitutional carry" bill and then approving different changes to the state Constitution, stating that "One is protecting the existing constitutional right. The other is amending the constitution." Allowing for school choice is a way to protect parents' rights to choose the best education for their children.