More and more parents are looking to Charter schools in South Carolina. Allowing parents to make this choice, and freeing educators from the burdensome mandates and inefficiencies of the traditional public school system, is a sound public policy. Sadly, not everyone is learning the right lessons from this growing movement.
Here are four recent examples of new Charters:
ABBEVILLE: Calhoun Falls Public Charter School (site)
In December, 2007, the Abbeville County School board used questionable figures to close Calhoun Falls middle and high schools. Eight months later, residents had rallied to withdraw from the district and opened one of the few bricks-and-mortar public charter schools with sports facilities in the state. Calhoun Falls Public Charter School has about 235 students in its first year and is open to any student in South Carolina. Initial estimates suggest a cost per student at CFPCS of about $4,500, compared to the $11,000 per student in traditional county public schools.
SPARTANBURG: Spartanburg Charter School (site)
The Spartanburg Herald Journal reports: “Last month, the South Carolina Public Charter School District approved SCS as a member school. The approval allowed the school to open in the fall to kindergarten through fifth-grade students. It will be the first charter school in Spartanburg County.” Interm school head Charles White explained “I think the opportunity to create something that hasn’t been created before is such an inviting challenge,” White said. “What an extraordinary group of passionate community volunteers and parents that feel so strongly about this.”
SUMTER: Achievement Academy
The Item reports: A local group is three years, many man hours and a state seal of approval closer to opening a public charter school on the property of Miracle Deliverance Temple on North Guignard Drive. After months of legwork, a fledgling school by the name of Achievement Academy received good news in late November when the South Carolina Charter School Advisory Committee certified its charter school application. The school’s interim headmaster Larry DuRant said explained: What differentiates Achievement Academy from the other schools in District 17 would be a focus on college from an early age. “We’ll be promoting college-bound from kindergarten,” he said. He wants Achievement Academy to be “a school of excellence.”
YORK: The York Preparatory Academy (site).
From the Rock Hill Herald: “‘We’re very confident (about the charter),’ said Craig Craze, who’s spearheading the effort to launch the school. The state’s charter school district is reviewing the application, he said. If approved, York Prep would join a growing number of charter schools cropping up across the state. Since 2002, that number has more than quintupled, from eight to 41. Charter schools, which get public money but don’t have to report to local school boards, recently have been in the spotlight. [ ] The plan is to open the campus in August 2010 with kindergarten through ninth grade, then add another grade yearly until the school is K-12. Enrollment would top out at roughly 1,300 students. So far, Craze said, about 800 families have shown interest. Students would be chosen through a lottery.”
SO-WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!: Charters are just one part of Choice
Popular with parents? Leaders in innovation? More cost-effective than traditional public schools?
It is hard to argue that this expansion of charter schools is anything but good (though many district officials are trying to stop it).
Still, some people aren’t willing to learn the policy lessons. Consider a recent editorial in the Rock Hill Herald:
Teachers and school leaders are free to choose curriculum, staff, hours of operation, the school calendar and the goals and standards of student behavior. Significantly, though, charter schools still are held accountable to the public school system.
That is an essential distinction for those who oppose using state money or tax vouchers to help parents pay for their children to attend private schools, which are not accountable to the state.
Herald pundits go on to embrace the innovation and freedom from bureaucracy that characterize charters. But they miss the main point. Any spending, be it public or private, on K-12 education in South Carolina is working toward the “public” aim of an educated populace. What’s more, the real difference with charters is that they are accountable to parents, not to politicians.
If Herald editors concede that one-size-fits-all public schools are systemically less efficient in meeting student and parent needs, why not give every child (not just those who parents have money or who are arbitrarily selected by a lottery) equal access to a full range of schools? This means traditional public schools, independent schools, homeschooling, magnet schools and yes, charters.
And yes, like the very popular HOPE, LIFE and Palmetto Fellows Scholarships, it does mean giving financial support and recognition to responsibly engaged parents who make these choices for their children.
UPDATE: also see “SC Charter School District gets shortchanged” in the Spartanburg Herald Journal, authored by Timothy Daniels, the superintendent/executive director of the S.C. Public Charter School District.