Charleston County School District to begin charging tuition to new out-of-county students in 2013-14
Students who live outside Charleston County but own property and attend school here will have to start paying tuition during the 2013-14 school year.
The change won’t apply to students currently enrolled in the district; they will be allowed to continue attending county schools at no charge.
The tuition for students new to the district will vary, but it’s roughly equivalent to the district’s average revenue per child — that was roughly $6,400 last year — minus the total of property taxes the student paid.
The school board agreed to the change last week, and it decided Monday in a 5-3 vote to have it apply to new out-of-county students for the 2013-14 school year.
Those dissenting were members Vice Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats, Elizabeth Kandrac and Brian Thomas. Board member Toya Hampton Green wasn’t present.
State law permits students who reside in other districts to attend county schools if they own a piece of county property assessed at $300 or more. The practices in districts statewide varies, and the Charleston school board agreed last week to begin charging tuition to those students.
District leaders have said most of these families do not contribute substantially to the tax base that supports the district, and the district doesn’t receive any money for those students’ attendance in the county.
The board didn’t specify last week whether the tuition would apply to current students or when it would go into effect, so it met Monday to clarify its decision.
Officials estimated Monday that 149 students live outside of Charleston but are attending district schools. Those numbers were called into question when community member and critic Henry Copeland pointed out errors, such as Academic Magnet and School of the Arts only having four out-of-county students when it’s been frequently reported that they have 15.
Officials couldn’t immediately explain the discrepancies but said they were looking into it.
School leaders estimated charging tuition could have generated as much as $600,000, but most school board members didn’t want to levy that charge because of the late notice.
Board Chairman Chris Fraser pointed out that families might have made major life choices for next year based on the district’s current practice of generally not charging tuition.
“We haven’t given people time to make decisions,” he said.
Coats pointed out that the board’s action would grandfather in existing families. “We’re basically telling them to get in now,” she said.
The board voted down a motion to begin charging new out-of-county students tuition this fall.
The board’s decision is somewhat related to a case pending before the state Supreme Court about whether the district can limit enrollment in certain schools, such as magnet schools, to county residents.
A Berkeley County parent and attorney, Gayla McSwain, has sued Charleston County schools over her daughter’s right to attend Academic Magnet High. The Circuit Court ruled that her daughter didn’t have to live in the county to attend the school but did have to own property with an assessed value of at least $300.
Still, school leaders have said even a favorable decision in that case wouldn’t prevent students from using that same state law to attend neighborhood schools, and charging tuition would generate needed revenue.
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.