Supt. Zais sticks to themes: charter schools can work, and poor children can learn
When he was campaigning for state superintendent of education, Mick Zais had some favorite themes that clearly resonated with voters. Charter schools can work. Poor children can learn. And schools need more autonomy.
After a year and a half in office, his favorite themes havenít changed ó and heís made headway in pursuit of them, mostly in the form of charter school legislation, which passed the General Assembly and was signed by the governor.
The bill is clearly aimed at making charter schools more attractive to students and their families and supporting the idea that one size does not fit all in education.
For example, it allows single-gender schools, where previously individual classes could be for boys only or girls only. It would also allow colleges to sponsor charter schools to their mutual advantage. Charter schools provide practical experience for college education students and in return get extra people to teach, guide and encourage students. Dr. Zais says it will probably be 2013 before such schools appear in South Carolina.
Further, the bill benefits students who attend a charter school without extracurricular options like football or debate club. Those students will be allowed to participate in such activities at the school they would have attended had they not chosen a charter school. These activities are an important part of an education, and it makes sense for them to be made available to all public school students.
The superintendent had hoped to help poor children attend private schools that meet their needs better than their assigned schools. The school choice bill would have provided scholarships for disabled and disadvantaged students.
More controversially, it also would have provided tax breaks for any family sending a child to private school or opting for home schooling.
The bill failed, as did the Teacher Protection Act. If a teacher had to break up a fight, that legislation would have protected him from an abuse lawsuit.
Mr. Zais is wading through red tape in his effort to provide schools and local school districts more autonomy. He has invited superintendents to send him their suggestions. He says he will work through the bureaucratic quagmire to accommodate them.
Superintendent Zais has remained true to the promises he made when voters elected him. It is yet too soon to know how his efforts will play out.
We look forward to seeing successful charter schools, and successful students, even when their choices have been limited by poverty.