Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Charter School Legislation

Today's debate concerns a bill, H. 3010, designed to create a statewide charter school district. The bill would create South Carolina Charter School District and thereby allow prospective charter schools another avenue to creation. This bill is necessary because although parents can currently form a charter school through their local school district, that rarely happens. Indeed, since the original charter school legislation passed in 1996, we have only 28 charter schools in existence.

Two reasons for this dearth predominate. First, only local boards can grant charters. Yes, the state board can hear appeals, but it can only remand decisions it disagrees with to the local board for the local board to rule again. Moreover, the state board hardly ever disagrees with a local board’s denial of a charter. The most frequent excuse used by boards to deny charters is racial composition. This seems disingenuous in the context that the places school choice is needed most are the urban and rural areas wherein the racial mix is already skewed. Despite the fact that the US government has given SC over $10m to study charters, we still have fewer than thirty. Effectively, the current Charter School law is impotent.

In a larger context, however, this debate (and their is one between conservatives and liberals) is not about strenghtening the charter school legislation in SC. It is about maintaining the status quo versus doing something that will improve the educational opportunities for all children in SC. Make no mistake as you follow this debate. Those who oppose the bill simply support the status quo. Those who support this bill want to move SC forward--and they want to move SC forward along lines already proven successful in other states. This debate really pits the minions of the State Department of Education against folks who realize that there has to be, and there is, a better way.