Community split over proposed voucher system

      NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Dozens of people gathered Wednesday to talk about a controversial bill that would provide tax breaks to those wanting to send kids to private schools or schools outside their district.{}

      About 50 people attended the meeting in North Charleston. Several state leaders were also at the meeting, including State Senator Larry Grooms of Daniel Island who is sponsoring bill 279.

      The bill calls for a $38 million voucher system that would go to South Carolina families looking for alternatives to their local public school. The bill also provides a similar tax deduction for home school expenses and provides a way for nonprofit scholarship organizations to provide tuition grants for poor children and exceptional needs children.


      "This would be about giving money to a scholarship organization," said Grooms. "And, those granting organizations could then supply a scholarship of up to 5 thousand dollars to a low income family and up to 10 thousand dollars to someone with a handicap, defined as a exceptional needs child."

      The meeting lasted almost three hours. Teachers, parents and local advocates voiced their concerns.

      "To me, I just can't understand it," said Patrick Hayes, a third grade teacher at Drayton Hall. "It kind of reminds me of cat hoarders. You know, the idea that you can't take care of what you have but you keep bringing in more."

      Hayes, along with dozens of others, wants the taxpayer money to be spent on the current public school system.

      "Why would we want to bring in more schools into the public funding system? We're not even funding the ones we have," said Hayes.

      On the other side of the spectrum, supporters of the private school sector said the voucher system is a positive addition to South Carolina's education system.

      "We want parents to have the choice to select the right school for their child and the situation that is for that child," said Michael Acquilano, a legal advocate.

      Acquilano said public school systems could learn from private schools and how they operate.

      "It's important that we learn how to be more efficient with the money we are given," he said . "I think that we could through this, cause the public schools to see how the private schools do it and maybe be more efficient with all of our dollars."

      Senator Grooms said in order to receive a voucher, a student would have to be considered low income or special needs, and/or qualify for Medicaid.{}