March 2023 was one of the more significant months I have experienced during my time as your legislative representative in the South Carolina General Assembly.

I’m proud of the direction we are currently taking on many fronts in the House during this session – especially with education initiatives that I believe will have long-lasting benefits. 

This House budget includes a $14 billion spending plan. The big takeaways came down to our emphasis on education, infrastructure and law enforcement. Many of our educational initiatives have been bolstered by the House with its new budget we passed during the week of March 20. I will have more to say about the entire budget in my next month’s column after we see how the Senate tinkers with the details of our proposal.

One significant feature was spending $69 million to freeze tuition rates increases for in-state students at our South Carolina colleges and universities. We also provided an additional $15 million for a tuition freeze at our technical colleges, plus another $100 million for workforce development (S.C. Wins Scholarships) through our state’s technical colleges.

If we are to improve our state’s overall educational system, I believe it is imperative we give flexibility to parents to make the best choice for their child’s education. We are now giving flexibility to parents who have been hamstrung for more than 100 years by a state constitutional amendment referred to as “the Blaine Amendment.” 

The genesis of the Blaine Amendment reflects the unfortunate religious bigotry and prejudices that prevailed across parts of our nation in the late 1800s against immigrant Catholics as well as against newly freed slaves, whose educational opportunities were starting to be improved by various missionary organizations. The Blaine Amendment was originally proposed to the U.S. Constitution but failed to pass Congress. Nonetheless, 38 states, including South Carolina, passed their own similar amendments called “Baby Blaine Amendments.” 

The amendment’s namesake, James G. Blaine, was a former Speaker of the House in Congress who strongly opposed Catholicism in the United States. He ran for president in 1884 using his “anti-Catholic” messaging but was defeated in a tight election by Grover Cleveland. 

The South Carolina version reads: “No money shall be paid from public funds nor shall the credit of the State or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” 

We voted 83-27 to approve the resolution to repeal this amendment. The measure now heads to the Senate, where it needs a two-thirds majority. Then, it would finally be decided upon by voters in the November 2024 general election. 

I firmly believe this new bill will allow parents to make the better choices for their children’s education. Attorneys in the General Assembly also believe it will help protect many state-funded programs such as S.C. Tuition Grant Programs, LIFE Scholarships, Palmetto Fellows, Full Day 4-K programs and Early Reading programs which could be vulnerable to legal challenge under the Blaine Amendment. 

Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.