Six of the 20 community groups that have filed applications to open new public charter schools in South Carolina want to serve the Charleston community.

Applications for groups hoping to open charter schools for the 2012-13 school year were due Monday. The state offers prospective charter schools two routes to seek approval, through the statewide Public Charter School District or local school boards.

Three of the 20 groups planning to serve local students will go through the state district, which means they would receive only state and federal money and no local funds. They also have the option of opening up their enrollment boundaries beyond Charleston County.

They are Dr. Sheryl J. Johnson International Academy, a year-round K-12 school; Richard Milburn Academy/South Carolina Online, which would serve grades 9-12; and Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School, a K-5 school.

The other three seeking to serve local students plan to go through the Charleston County School Board, which means only county students would be eligible to attend.

Those schools are Village Charter School, which would serve grades 6-12; Southeastern Elementary Institute of Global Studies, which would serve grades K-5; and King Preparatory Accelerated Charter, which would serve grades K-6.

The charter schools' next step will be to go through a review by the state Charter School Advisory Committee to ensure that their applications comply with the state charter school law. Once an application is approved by the committee, the sponsoring district will have 30 days to approve or deny it.

Charter schools are public schools that are run by elected boards of parents and community members. They are accountable to the same state and federal standards as public schools, but they operate independently of a local school district's mandates.

Nine charter schools serve students in Charleston County, which is more than anywhere else in the state. The state charter district has permitted one brick-and-mortar school, Palmetto Scholars Academy, to operate in the county and serve students from the tri-county area. Students also have the option of enrolling in five online charter schools.

The state's public charter schools have experienced dramatic growth, but they still enroll a small portion of the state's nearly 700,000 students. More than 16,000 students attend 44 charter schools, which is nearly twice as many as were enrolled two years ago.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the introduction of online charter schools in the state; they opened in 2009-10 and have enrolled nearly 7,500 students this year.

"Public charter schools are cutting-edge laboratories of creativity and innovation," said State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais. "They have the potential to dramatically increase the number and quality of instructional options available to students and parents within the public school system."

Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546.