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A Statewide Authorizer in South Carolina
January 2005
By David A Church

The South Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools (SCAPCS), with the support of Gov. Mark Sanford and Speaker David Wilkins, has led a legislative initiative for the past two years that now has the potential to significantly expand and improve charter schooling in the state.

This proposal, the "Carolina Public Charter School District," would establish an alternative authorizer for both current and new charter schools. Similar legislation was introduced late in last year's legislative session and passed through the House only to stall in the Senate as time ran out. The current bill, H3010, moved out of House committees within the first two weeks of the session and was just approved by the full House.

H3010 would create the first statewide school district--a Local Education Agency--to authorize and sponsor charter schools. Members of the Governing Board of the Carolina Public Charter School District would be appointed by the Governor (3), the House Speaker (2), the Senate Pro-Tem (2), and the State Superintendent (2). The new district would be extremely cost-efficient, operating on only 2 percent of per pupil funding (the administrative cost for South Carolina's eighty-five school districts is 40 to 60 percent).

This legislation has several clear advantages over our current law:

  • The current law allows for only one authorizing chartering authority (the local school district board of trustees).
  • Under the current law, school districts have been able to delay delivery of per-pupil and federal funds to charters for several months, forcing our schools to seek bridge loans in order to operate.
  • For several other reasons, the current law's funding mechanisms have created enormous tension between our fledgling charters and their host districts. Because they would be fully funded by state dollars, charters sponsored by the new Carolina Public Charter School District (CPCSD) would be independent of district rules and funding. The Governor has allocated $360,000 in his FY2006 budget to initiate CPCSD.
  • Under current law, SC Public Charter Schools are not considered Local Educational Agencies, which prohibits them from applying for a wide variety of federally funded programs. CPCSD would be eligible to apply for the more than thirty federal discretionary grant programs that support charters.
  • The current law does not allow for "non-homed based" charter schools, which has excluded the development of virtual schools and other distance-education initiatives.
  • The current law does not prohibit retaliatory conduct from local school boards, which can have a chilling effect on both conversion groups and groups desiring to form new public charter schools.

Education reform leaders from across the nation are supporting South Carolina's pioneering legislation. Howard Fuller, chair of the Charter School Leadership Council has stated: "The adoption of these much-needed changes will enable South Carolina to expand charter schooling, so all parents, particularly low-income parents, will have greater access to high-quality education options for their children."

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a supporter of research, publications, and action projects of national significance in elementary/secondary education reform, highlighted the proposed legislation in their May 20th issue of The Gadfly, "It's a smart and overdue change and one recommended in Fordham's report on charter authorizing."

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, whose mission is to promote the establishment and operation of quality charter schools through responsible oversight in the public interest, in a letter of thanks to Governor Sanford said, "This proposal makes for good public policy and is an emerging national trend…we wish you well in securing passage of the bill."

The Education Leaders Council, a national association of education leaders, reviewed the proposed legislation and had this comment: "The effort in South Carolina is strengthening not only their own law, bringing more quality options to students in the state, but also providing a new model for other states in the nation to follow."

The South Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools is pleased that the legislation has received so much support. We know that the children of South Carolina need more and better public school options in our state. It is gratifying to know that so many national researchers and leaders in education reform agree that a statewide school district for charter schools would provide better education opportunities for our students.

Dr. David A. Church is Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools. Other News and Views