February 17, 2017 Print

Thanks to advocacy from the Palmetto Promise Institute, students like Cody Hollingsworth benefit from school choice programs that cater to their special needs.

Cody Hollingsworth is an autistic boy with learning disabilities who didn’t receive the attention he needed to succeed at his former public school in South Carolina. Thanks to the Exceptional SC tuition tax credit and scholarship program, though, Cody qualified for funding to attend a private school that offers an education tailored to his needs, where he has done exceptionally well. The Palmetto Promise Institute (PPI), an Atlas Network partner based in South Carolina, has been on the forefront of advocating school choice programs like Exceptional SC, along with a range of other reforms designed to bring new efficiency, choice, and accountability to the state’s health care, energy, and tax and budget policies.

“Education is the foundation of an individual’s ability to find a job and support a family,” explains Ellen Weaver, PPI’s president. “The need to expand education opportunity for students trapped in schools where the public education system is failing may be the most pressing state-level human flourishing crisis of our time.”

Exceptional SC recently set a fundraising record, collecting more than $9.2 million in donated tax liability funds for school choice scholarships and providing tuition funding to 1,342 students at 114 schools.

“This strong progress made by Exceptional SC in the face of significant obstacles is encouraging,” notes PPI Senior Fellow Dr. Oran Smith. “This is exactly what we predicted would occur if the program were given a second chance. We are thankful that lawmakers understood the significance of supporting these exceptional students.”

Based in South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia, PPI works to effect policy at the state level by focusing on deregulation and limiting government, in order to create more educational and professional opportunities for South Carolina’s families. Originally founded as the Palmetto Ford Foundation nearly a decade ago, PPI relaunched in 2013 with a new name and a rejuvenated mission that emphasizes helping all South Carolinians to live to their fullest potential.

PPI’s effectiveness has earned the organization high praise from notable local politicians, including Sen. Tim Scott, Sen. Jim DeMint (who also served as the honorary founding chairman), and former Gov. Nikki Haley, who are all strong proponents of school choice. Sen. Scott recently attended an event co-hosted by PPI and the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, in honor of National School Choice Week.

PPI has devoted a section of its website, “Palmetto Voices,” to telling the stories of people whose lives change for the better through effective policy reform. It brings to life the struggles and successes of individuals like Cody Hollingsworth and their families. Children who live in poverty, who have learning disabilities or genetic disorders, or are stuck in deprived school districts, would be more likely to fall behind without PPI’s advocacy to expand their educational options.

Palmetto Promise Institute echoes Sen. Scott’s conviction that the greatest chance any individual has to achieve prosperity begins with education. PPI hopes to set a strong example for its neighbors by showing in real, practical terms how greater access to education can improve life for South Carolina’s residents. Although PPI’s work with other states, politicians, business leaders, and academics has been critical component of its success to date, it remains a grassroots organization at its core.

“It starts in our own backyards with neighbors working together with neighbors to build understanding and shared consensus about the future of our community,” Weaver explains. “This is long-term, difficult work, but it’s how we will win the competition of ideas: when people know us and know we care about them and their daily lives.”