Bulldogs brace for once-beaten Chanticleers

Chris Gradnigo (left) and Big South member Coastal Carolina have sent Clemson and LSU reeling this season.

The second attempt by state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex at school choice reform will focus on creating options within public schools rather than letting students transfer to schools across district lines.

Rex announced the details of his new plan Wednesday at the state's first Public School Choice Conference. Legislation he supported supported passed the state House and Senate last year but was vetoed by Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sanford, who favors tax tuition credits to help low-income parents pay for private schools, said he vetoed the bill because private schools were not included. Rex continues to oppose subsidies for parents whose children attend private schools in this year's proposed legislation.

Some educators questioned part of Rex's proposal last year that required schools to accept some students transferring from nearby districts. School leaders in already overcrowded districts worried about the cost of educating students from other areas.

The new proposal no longer mandates that idea. Instead, cross-district transfers would be up to local school boards. The bill would create public school choice committees in each of the state's school districts, and those committees would develop new curriculum options within two years. Choices could include single-gender and Montessori options.

Rex said he thinks the shift in focus will boost the bill's chances of passing. An expert on single-gender education, to assist schools in starting that program, has been hired, and Rex said he expects to hire a Montessori expert soon.

Several local schools already have adopted single-gender classes. At Dorchester District 2's Beech Hill Elementary, roughly 200 out of 1,000 students are enrolled in boys-only or girls-only classes this year, said Babette Hamilton, Beech Hill's principal.

Hamilton said Rex's new proposal shows the education chief's flexibility. "The bottom line is, we are all trying to make our schools better," she said.

Leaders with South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a group that has pushed to include private schools in choice proposals, said they plan to continue their advocacy this year.

Denver Merrill, the group's communications director, said Rex's proposal would be more far-reaching if private schools were included.

Reach Mindy B. Hagen at mhagen@postandcourier.com.