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Scott, Weaver tour Orange Grove Charter to kick off School Choice Week

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Photo: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images News / Getty Images

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and state Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver kicked off National School Choice Week with a stop at Orange Grove Charter Elementary School in West Ashley.

The pair touted the benefits of school choice by visiting the charter institution that was ranked second in the state by U.S. News and World Report.

During the tour, the pair did an experiment with first graders, played basketball with second graders and did math in the third grade. Scott even raced the school’s principal on Orange Grove’s new zip line, nearly to disastrous effect when the line hit the end and recoiled backward.

Both feigned confusion with the math worksheet, ultimately getting help from the class.

“I did pretty well. I did have a little teacher assistance,” Scott said to Weaver.

“This is a good reminder why I like reading better than I like math,” Weaver replied.

Both also suggested the level of rigor is much higher than it was when they were in school, something Scott says is a testament to the strength of school choice.

“The importance of school choice cannot be better realized than what we are seeing here today,” Scott said. “When a parent has a choice, the kids have a chance not just to get a better education but a better life. This is how you realize your full potential by having a quality education.”

In South Carolina, parents have a number of options when it comes to school choice. Those options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, public virtual education, home school and private school options.

School choice allows parents to send their children to schools other than the neighborhood public school they live in but transfers within the public school system must be approved by the district. However, transfers to public schools do not have to be approved and entrance exams may bar some students from transferring to certain schools.

“I think a lot of times we are told that choice is an either or option,” Weaver said. “You’re either for public education or you’re for choice and I think what the Senator and I have said for years is that we need a seamless system where students can go wherever they need.”

School choice has come under fire in recent years as Republicans in the state legislature attempted to make private schools more affordable for low-income students. Last year, a school choice bill was signed into law that would create education savings accounts and allow 5,000 low-income kids to receive scholarships for up to $6,000 for tuition and other expenses.

The first scholarships are expected to be handed out at the start of the next school year. The program would then expand over the next two years to eventually hand out 15,000 scholarships to students living at or below four times the poverty limit.

“This is absolutely game changing for these families,” Weaver said. “The application process is open now, it opened on January 15, and it only is open until March 15. It’s essential that families go online and apply today.”

Opponents argue that money could be going to improve the state’s public schools.

“The quality of your education should not be defined by your zip code,” Scott said. “When we bring school choice to the poorest quarters of this state. It is good for the nation, but it’s really good for South Carolina. We want our best and most talented kids to stay in the state for their schooling. And for their work.”

The new scholarship program is currently being challenged in court.

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