“As a mother, I know first-hand that no two children are the same or learn in the same way. That’s why as Governor, I am proud to see more and more school options for children in South Carolina,” says Governor Nikki Haley.
Gov. Haley, mother of two, made this statement on the heels of the release of Empowering Students: Education Options for South Carolina Families. Developed by policy action engine Palmetto Policy Forum, the publication is, according to PPF’s President Ellen Weaver, “a first-of-its-kind online education resource catalogue designed to equip South Carolina families with information about how to take advantage of the education options currently available in the Palmetto State.”
The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that there are approximately 725,838 students in South Carolina public schools. This figure includes the more than 40,000 public charter and online schools. PPF found that in 2012, about 70,000 South Carolina students attended independent schools, while around 30,000 were homeschooled.
Supporting the launch of the online and printed catalogue was a diverse group of education-minded partners: Dr. Mick Zais, state superintendent of education, StudentsFirstSC, the Public Charter School Alliance of SC, Palmetto Family Council, the Midlands Homeschool Resource Center, the SC Association of Independent Home Schools and the SC Association of Christian Schools.
Currently, points out Mick, South Carolinians are presented with various education options. “South Carolina parents are being empowered to control and customize their child’s education. That’s a great thing,” he says.
Ellen, who was instrumental in developing the online resource explains, “This catalogue highlights the stories of South Carolina families who are accessing the powerful opportunity of an education that is truly customized to the needs of their children. We hope this guide will help even more Palmetto State families take advantage of the range of choices available to them and will inspire lawmakers with information about how, through proven policy ideas, we can continue to expand these options and unleash the potential of every South Carolina child.”
PPF was first founded by South Carolina business leaders in 2009 as the Palmetto Fort Foundation; its name was a tribute to the stand for freedom taken by South Carolina patriots at Fort Moultrie during the Revolutionary War. This past year, the organization was relaunched under its present name by former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint. The Forum strives to represent leaders interested in conservative principles and bold transformative policies.
“People are so disillusioned by politics — especially the mess we see in Washington,” explains Ellen. “We believe that there is a huge opportunity to provide a bold, positive vision of what can be done in states to create opportunity and save America … and that’s what we aim to do.”
Although PPF is permitted to engage in limited lobbying activity, its primary purpose is to serve as an issue-education resource for citizens and elected officials. Many parents find that searching for the education option best suited for the unique needs of their children can be an overwhelming and frustrating task. It is relatively easy to find out more about the neighborhood public school — even if that means just heading down the road to visit it in person, but information about additional education options is scattered on sites all around the Web and can be harder to find. Empowering Students, therefore, has gathered as many resources as possible into a one-stop-shop resource for parents.
The goal of Empowering Students is to explain education options — both public and private — currently available to South Carolina families. “That list includes public charter schools, public virtual schools, private schools, homeschools, as well as the brand new tax credit scholarship option for students with special needs,” Ellen says. “We provide contact information for the most reliable websites and organizations where parents can learn more, and we also bring it home by telling the story of a real South Carolina family who has found success with each option.”
The catalogue was mailed to about 25,000 families this past fall. The rollout of the catalogue comes around the same time South Carolina is unveiling its first private-school choice program, which was adopted in 2013. Beginning in January, non-profits were able to accept donations for scholarships to assist special needs students with their private school tuition fees. Tax credits are available for those donations.
According to Ellen, the Forum was funded by “freedom-loving South Carolinians,” with a one-time, start-up grant of $300,000 from Senator Jim DeMint’s campaign account when he retired from the U.S. Senate.
The plan is to update the catalogue annually. The online version of the catalogue can be found by http://tinyurl.com/EmpowerStudentsSC.