The South Carolina Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children is a tax-credit scholarship program enacted in 2013 and launched in 2014. The program provides tax credits of up to 100 percent of donations made to a Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO). SFOs give private school scholarships to students with special needs. Learn more about this program, including funding, eligibility, and regulations, on this page.
One of 18 private school choice programs exclusively for students with special needs nationwide
1,972 students participating (2016–17)
13 percent of students eligible statewide
1 scholarship organizations (2016–17)
106 schools participating (2016–17)
Average scholarship value: $5,136 (2016–17)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 52 percent
South Carolina offers tax credits to donors supporting scholarship funding organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships to students with special needs.
The maximum scholarship amount an SFO may award is $11,000 or the cost of tuition and qualified expenses, whichever is less. Scholarships may be used for tuition, transportation, textbook expenses or any combination of these at qualifying private schools.
Students are eligible to receive scholarships if they have been designated by the South Carolina Department of Education as meeting the federal definition of a “child with a disability” (34 CFR 300.8). Additionally, a student’s parents must believe the assigned public school district does not sufficiently meet the student’s needs. If a licensed speech-language pathologist, psychiatrist or medical, mental health, psycho-educational or other comparable licensed healthcare provider has diagnosed a student with one of the following impairments within the last three years—a neurodevelopmental disorder, a substantial sensory or physical impairment (such as deaf, blind or orthopedic disability) or some other disability or acute or chronic condition that significantly impedes the student’s ability to learn and succeed in school without specialized instructional and associated supports and services tailored to the child’s unique needs—then that student is eligible for this program.
South Carolina’s first school choice program could improve in a few key areas. For example, the program’s scholarship funding fails to take into account the actual cost of serving a particular student’s exceptional educational needs. Additionally, the $10 million cap on credits will likely limit the number of scholarships SFOs are able to award, although there may be some flexibility based on participation in the state’s new refundable tax credit program. The total cumulative cap for both programs is $11 million—enough to provide funding for a very limited number of students. To improve upon this new opportunity, South Carolina needs to increase eligibility beyond students with exceptional needs and raise the limit on tax credits available to donors, similar to what its neighbor to the southwest, Georgia, has done with its tax-credit scholarship program.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.