Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday signed a bill into law that advocates say will strengthen the state’s 47 public charter schools.
The legislation enables higher- education institutions to authorize charter schools, permits single-gender charter schools to operate and allows charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities at their neighborhood schools.
“It is a great day in South Carolina,” Haley said in a statement. “We will no longer settle for what we think education has to be, we will lead in this country on what education should be — and that means options, innovation and creativity.”
State Education Superintendent Mick Zais called it his chief legislative priority.
“Charter schools are not a magic bullet, but they are a tremendous step in the way to providing a personalized and customized education for every student — not a standardized and uniform education for every student,” Zais said at the ceremony at Greenville Technical Charter High School.
South Carolina has outpaced national growth in the number of charter school students served during the past five years. Nearly 18,000 students statewide attend charter schools.
Eight new schools will open this year, 13 have been submitted for 2013-14, and more than 30 planning groups are working on applications.
Charter schools are public schools, but they aren’t governed by the county school board.
They instead have separate boards to make decisions about the way they spend money and the curricula they offer.
Zais said charter schools are critical because they allow teachers freedom to teach in different ways. He said they are also more accountable because if they don’t meet parents’ expectations, they won’t stay open.
“A traditional school that fails gets more money,” Zais said. “A charter school that is not satisfactory closes.”
Haley said charter schools increase competition in education, which she said is just as important as competition in free markets.
“Competition is even more needed in education because it lifts the quality of the teachers. It lifts the options for the students and it allows the parents to see the accountability,” Haley said.
The governor said she hopes the bill is just the start of expanding education options in South Carolina, although she didn’t specify what she would like to see next.
“This is just the first step of what education can look like in South Carolina,” Haley said.