The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill by an 82-34 vote Wednesday that would provide funding for charter schools. However, a late amendment could change how traditional schools are operated, as well.
The bill, one of the GOP’s priorities this year, helps fund the 11 charter schools overseen by the state. The schools, which are part of the SC Public Charter School District, say they need the money in order to survive next year as federal stimulus grants run out. The SCPCSD is independent of any school district in South Carolina.
Charter schools are a form of public school operated by nonprofits that don’t follow all of the same standards as traditional public schools. They are usually offered as an alternative to traditional-style education.
Originally, H. 3241 would have required local districts to pay for the charter schools in their areas. That plan was scrapped after districts complained they couldn’t afford to lose any more money– especially not to schools over which they have no control.
Although the bill cleared committee on February 9, it was held up for two weeks as legislators negotiated an alternative way to fund the schools. They finally reached a compromise Wednesday, taking away the mandates for local districts and instead using state money. In a separate vote Wednesday, the House Ways & Means Committee set aside $25 million. However, the funding source is not permanent and legislators would have to decide how much to designate each year.
The money for the charter schools would come from more than $70 million in previous cuts made at the state Department of Education.
Rep. B.R. Skelton (R-Pickens) said he favored the final funding method over the original.
Initially, it would have cost my district $305,000. I couldn’t afford to get rid of several teachers just to fund this.
However, Skelton and other legislators criticized a late amendment added to the bill on the House floor that lets traditional public schools opt out of certain restrictions– the same way charter schools can.
Rep. Garry Smith (R-Greenville) said it would allow schools some flexibility, such as permitting them to hire noncertified teachers to teach subjects like history or economics. The noncertified teachers could not make up more than 10 percent of the overall teaching staff.
It gives them an opportunity to get an engineer, and others, that can come in and teach classes that (they) would not normally be able to.
Skelton opposed the amendment, calling it inappropriate. He said such a major change to state rules should be studied in committee first.
We don’t know what the impact will be. It’s open-ended. If we knew what it did, then we would be in a position to be making a decision about whether it’s good or bad. But ignorance of the consequences limits our ability to make a good decision.
The amendment was approved by a 73-43 vote.
It marks the second year in a row the House has passed a bill that attempts to adequately fund charter schools. A similar bill died in the Senate last year. Rep. Phil Owens (R-Anderson), the bill’s primary sponsor, says he hopes to successfully end what’s been a long, hard process.
I’ve been carrying this child for three years. I’m ready for it to be born.