The South Carolina Senate could vote this week on a bill that tries to encourage the growth of charter schools. The bill gives more options for charter schools to form, including sponsorship by a university. It also would authorize boys-only and girls-only schools.
The House passed the measure last year, led by Easley Republican Phil Owens. He says the idea is to offer a different type of public school, one that is guided by parents.
The bill also requires traditional schools to give charter students access to sports and other extracurricular activities that their schools don’t offer. Owens says it’s an attempt to combine different ideas into a single piece of legislation.
“This bill is consolidating a lot of the changes that were being introduced over the years, as what I would call piecemeal,’ says Owens. “My attempt in this bill was to bring all those pieces together into one comprehensive bill, and let’s deal with it all at one time.”
The bill is currently held up on some technical issues, including how a current public school can convert over to a charter school. Right now, two-thirds of the faculty and parents have to support the switch. However, some lawmakers like Orangeburg Democrat John Matthews, want the entire community involved in the decision.
“For example, if the taxpayers voted a referendum, to build a new school, then two-thirds of teachers and students can convert it to a private school, which is clearly not the intent of the taxpayer when they built the school,” Matthews argues.
He says any conversion needs to be approved by the school board. “The referendum is always specific, and it says to build what school and where. And so when you vote on that referendum, you know what you’re voting on; you’re voting to build a public school. You’re not voting to build a charter school, and then the charter school will leave you with the debt.”
But Matthews maintains that he wants to vote for the bill in the end.
South Carolina has 17,000 students in 47 charter schools. They are public schools are led by a board of parents, teachers and community members, rather than a school district. They also are subject to fewer government regulations than traditional public schools.
Rep. Owens says he has been working to pass the bill for over three years.
“I think there is always resistance, because it’s human nature to resist change, ” he says, “so there’s probably opposition out there, but as time goes on and as we see a national acceptance and a national growth of charter school… it’s becoming recognized for what it is.”