Single-gender schools, athletic participation part of sweeping changes in works for S.C. charter schools
Palmetto State charter school supporters are celebrating the passage of a sweeping set of changes they say will benefit their public schools.
Charter school bill
South Carolina lawmakers have adopted bill H. 3241 that proponents say would strengthen the state’s public charter schools.Some of the bill’s provisions include:
Permits the creation of single-gender public charter schools.
Permits higher education institutions to sponsor public charter schools.
Permits public charter school board members to serve more than a one-year term.
Permits public charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, at their neighborhood public school if that activity or athletic team is not offered by the public charter school they attend. Students will be required to pay any fees that other students pay to participate and are eligible for fee waivers available to other students.
Changes the composition of the state Charter School Advisory Committee to include a public charter school principal and a public charter school board member. The committee determines whether public charter school applications are in compliance with state public charter school law.
Requires the state Charter School Advisory Committee to notify the county legislative delegation in which a proposed public charter school is to be located upon receipt of a public charter school application.
Prohibits a governing board or a school district employee who has control over personnel actions from taking unlawful reprisal against another employee of the school district because the employee is directly or indirectly involved in an application to establish a public charter school.
Requires school districts to release funds for public charter schools in a timely manner. Failure to do so within 10 business days may result in fines in an amount equivalent to the withheld funds.
S.C. Department of Education
The legislation needs only Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature to become law, and her spokesman said she will sign it. It will amend state law in a multitude of ways, perhaps the most significant of which include:
Allowing higher-education institutions to approve charter schools to open.
Permitting single-gender charter schools to exist.
Letting charter school students participate in extracurricular or athletic activities at their neighborhood school if those aren’t offered at their charter school.
“It’s going to result in students’ excelling academically and truly moving South Carolina forward,” said Mary Carmichael, executive director of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, which has been a driving force behind the legislation.
Charter schools are public schools, but they are not governed by county school boards. They instead have separate boards to make decisions about funding, policy and curriculum.
About 18,000 students are enrolled in 47 charter schools statewide. Charleston has nine brick-and-mortar charter schools, eight of which are open only to county residents. Lowcountry students also can enroll in online charter schools.
The state passed its charter school law in 1996, and lawmakers made significant changes in 2006, such as creating an alternative authorizer, the state Public Charter School District, and allowing virtual charter schools.
The new legislation is the biggest overhaul of the state’s rules on charter schools since then, Carmichael said.
Proponents of the bill have been working for nearly three years on this with Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
They looked at the national model for state charter school law and tried to change South Carolina’s to be higher quality. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked the state’s law No. 25 nationally, saying it needed to be adjusted to ensure equitable funding and access to capital money and facilities.
The original bill included a provision that called for local funds to follow students, regardless of where they enrolled, but that was eliminated. Carmichael said that’s an issue that still needs to be addressed and will be worked on going forward.
“That’s something we know long term we need to have,” she said.
Scott Price is attorney for the South Carolina School Boards Association, which serves and represents the interest of traditional school boards that sometimes clash with charter schools.
The association had some concerns with the bill, particularly the issue of the funding following the child. Estimates showed that districts could have taken a $25 million hit were that to happen, he said.
The association also had a problem with allowing charter school students to participate in extracurricular and athletic activities elsewhere, because it could be to the detriment of other children enrolled in neighborhood schools, he said.
The association supported some of the bill’s provisions, such as allowing single-gender schools and ensuring an appropriate timeline for school districts to turn over state and federal funds to charter schools.
In the end, “it’s something we can work with,” he said.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais praised the passage of the new law and thanked lawmakers for it.
“The General Assembly has renewed its commitment to providing parents a choice in the school their children attend,” he said in a statement. “A one-size-fits-all model of education simply doesn’t work for many students. Public charter schools are laboratories of innovation where the interests of students come first.”