COLUMBIA—Thousands packed the Township Auditorium to support the right of parents to pick the best type of education for their child.
Organizers estimated that more than 2,500 people turned out for the annual School Choice Rally on Jan. 25, including students, parents, teachers and principals from most of the 34 Catholic schools in the diocese.
The rally has become an annual event in Columbia, held in conjunction with National School Choice Week. This was one of the largest turnouts, buoyed by what many feel is a growing post-election climate that makes school choice a viable reality for more kids around the country.
The day included song, dance and musical performances by students, and testimonials from people who said school choice has made a positive difference in their lives. The crowd heard a proclamation from Gov. Henry McMaster, and the event was attended by Molly Spearman, state superintendent of education. Students from St. John School in North Charleston presented awards and thank-you cards to legislators.
The rally was sponsored by the Palmetto Promise Institute, the South Carolina Public Charter School Alliance, Public School Options and the S.C. Catholic Conference.
“The goal of the rally and of the school choice movement is just to be able to provide each child the education option that is best for them,” said Michael Acquilano, director of the S.C. Catholic Conference. “It was good for Catholic schools to be involved in the effort because the school choice movement is vibrant in our communities.”
The Columbia rally promoted a variety of education opportunities, including public, private, charter, and online schools, plus homeschooling, Acquilano said.
More than 20,000 events were held nationally to support school choice, according to organizers. There were over 300 events in South Carolina.
Acquilano said there are two pieces of legislation regarding school choice in the very initial stages of consideration in the state Senate. He encourages people interested in the issue to contact their legislators and explain why school choice is important and beneficial for all children.
Currently in South Carolina, the primary funding regarding school choice comes through the Education Credit for Exceptional Needs Children Fund, which helps provide tax credits for parents of special needs children who attend private schools, including Catholic schools.
Sister Dale McDonald, a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, public policy and research director for the National Catholic Educational Association, said in a Jan. 26 interview with Catholic News Service that the NCEA sees school choice as a justice issue.
“We aren’t meant to serve only the rich. As a Church, we’re committed to serving all God’s people,” she said.
Photo provided: Catholic school youth cheer during the School Choice Rally held Jan. 25 at Township Auditorium in Columbia.