People in neighboring counties have been attending some of the best Charleston County public schools for years. It is reasonable for the school board to require that they pay something approaching the actual cost of that privilege.
But the Charleston County School Board misstepped this week when it decided on the details. Instead of initiating the policy this fall, the board elected to wait a year. And instead of charging all out-of-district students tuition, it grandfathered in those who already attend school here — as well as all those who will attend beginning in the coming school year. That means a non-resident student who starts school in Charleston this fall will pay nothing for the duration of his or her education.
And that isn’t fair or equitable. Charleston County residents pay taxes on their houses and other properties. That money goes to pay for far more than half of the school district’s budget. Funding that flows through the state falls far short in this county.
All state law requires for non-residents is that they own property in Charleston County with a minimum value of $300. Clearly, the taxes on a $300,000 house and a $300 parcel are not even close to being equitable.
So residents are coughing up far more for the same education.
It is a point of pride that CCSD has schools that people will go the extra mile to attend. But CCSD contends that each district is allowed to set parameters.
The Supreme Court is deliberating the issue of whether non-residents may attend magnet schools in Charleston County even though the district’s rules don’t allow for it.
Cindy Coats, vice chairman of the Charleston County School Board, is the member who recommended the district charge tuition. The board agreed with her.
She didn’t prevail when she tried to stipulate that tuition would begin for non-students this fall.
Ms. Coats told us that the amount students will pay is still up for discussion. She is open to options. But for now, the board is considering charging the equivalent of what residents pay in school taxes. That was roughly $6,400 last year. They would be given credit for taxes they pay on their Charleston property.
While that makes sense, it is a hefty enough price to discourage families. And while Berkeley County students who want to attend the Academic Magnet High School have alternatives in their home district, those schools might not meet their needs as well. AMHS is one of the top-ranked public schools in the country.
The Charleston County School Board needs to pin down more details, including the non-resident price of admission to Charleston schools.
Meanwhile, Berkeley County’s school board should take note. Its constituents want something the district isn’t offering. Perhaps it should.