MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Legislation that proponents say would create more financial opportunity for families to send their kids to private school has advanced in the South Carolina Senate.

The bill would establish Education Savings Accounts, marking one of the first times public money could be spent in the private school sector. 

The ESA program would allot qualifying families a certain amount of taxpayer money they could then spend on private school tuition or other educational means outside the public school their child is zoned for.

“In order to ensure true choice, we believe the Education Saving Program must ensure that a family that receives ESA dollars is able to access a private school setting of their choice regardless of their child’s academic ability, their disability status, or their demographic profile,” Patrick Kelly, the director of governmental affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association said.

The PTSA supports school choice legislation.

Katherine Cannon is the head of school at Myrtle Beach Christian Academy. She says while the school offers tuition assistance, the ESA program would expand eligibility to more lower-income families.

“We want to make Christian education affordable, and I think we would want to make school choice affordable,” Cannon said.

During the pandemic, enrollment at MBCA grew by about 200 students, something Cannon believes was fueled in part by families searching for more educational options.

“We really had a lot of families come seeking something that’s in-person because they believe that’d be best for their children and we do too,” she said. “That might not be best for every family, but we believe that’s what’s best for us to offer.”

Cannon believes school choice is important because all kids are different.

“Really to me ​it’s a partnership between public schools, independent schools — even homeschool associations,” she said. “The idea there is that if we’re all working together, every student in South Carolina receives what is best for him or her and every family feels supported.”

SC for Ed does not support ESA legislation and took to social media to call upon South Carolina residents to reach out to their local representatives. In a Facebook post, the group referred to the bill as, “a death knell for public education.”

SC for Ed leaders sent the below statement to News13 regarding the legislation”

“Educational Savings Accounts will take dollars from public schools and allow them to be used to pay for private school and tutoring amongst other things. While school operational costs will not change, public schools will have less money to do so on. Further, currently there are no provisions to ensure non-discrimination of students within the account framework.  We call upon citizens to reach out to their House and Senate members to urge them not to pass this bill as it will be a significant blow to public education in South Carolina.”