COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – A proposed bill would allow for Education Savings Accounts in South Carolina — something lawmakers claim would give certain students who otherwise couldn’t afford it to be able to attend private school.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry County, the chairman of the senate education committee, said it’s legislation the South Carolina General Assembly has debated in the past, but had to put on the backburner during the pandemic.

He describes ESAs as a “tool” for families.

“There would be state funding to follow that child to pursue a private education or other educational choices that a family decides is right for their child,” Hembree said.

Right now, the Senate is discussing what parameters the bill would establish for qualification.

“It might be a kid who has been bullied, or just in that traditional structure of the K-12 system, they are not thriving,” he said.

Education advocates at SC for Ed though worry ESAs would mean less money for local districts. They cite a financial impact study done on a previous version of the bill that, if passed, they said would lead to $500 million fewer dollars for public education funding.

News13 asked Senator Hembree what his response was to the opposition.

“Well, I think it is putting the child first,” he said. “That I feel is my responsibility — to look at the children, the students, they are our customers and getting them a high-quality education is what our goal is and if this is a tool that can accomplish that, there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Hembree said Arizona, Florida, West Virginia and Oklahoma have similar programs. He cites Florida as being “a leader” and “really ahead” on education initiatives.

“In other states, it has been a very small number of students who opted to use this tool,” he said. “Arizona is the biggest and I think they have about maybe 4% of their student population that has made use of this.”