S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0123.charter.htm

HOT ISSUE
Charter school bill might provide political cover
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JAN. 23, 2005 - - Not all charter school applicants are created equal.

Take the case of a North Charleston group that sought to start a charter school last year. On the North Charleston group’s application cover page, it misspelled a slogan as “Becuase learning is a lifelong experience!” Before a state advisory board could consider its application, the group withdrew it.


Find the misspelled word on this charter school application cover page.

But under a proposal that will be taken up in the S.C. House of Representatives in next week, it might get easier for organizations to become charter schools without much local input.

Charter schools are specially-licensed public schools to which parents in some counties can choose to send their children. These innovative schools currently have to be approved by the state and local school boards, but operate outside the traditional school system. They generally have more freedom from regulations that apply to most schools.

For many, charter schools provide a public school option that also gives parents a choice about where their kids go to school. Currently, there are 23 charter schools in South Carolina. Another nine or 10 are expected to open in the fall.

Under the legislative proposal that will be considered on the House floor, local school boards may be cut out of the loop. Lawmakers propose creating a special statewide school district for charter schools that allows a new bureaucracy to consider and approve whether groups should be able to start new schools.

Proponents of the measure say it’s needed because some local boards are opposed to charter schools and as such, parents in those districts don’t have the options for school choice available to them.

“There seems to be a good bit of resistance of local school districts to issue a charter,” said SC Sen. Larry Grooms, a Berkeley County Republican who is sponsoring a charter school bill in the Senate. The House takes up a similar bill in the coming week.

Opponents, including the state Board of Education, say the current charter school system, started just a few years ago, is on track to have 50 charter schools across the state in five years - - quite a large number for a state the size of South Carolina.

“We feel like the present system under the Charter School Act is working,” said Carolyn Donges, interim director of the state’s Office of Safe Schools, which oversees charter schools.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: From the archives

FEEDBACK: Power to the wealthy?

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and amixed review

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Critics maintain the proposed new statewide charter school district would create another statewide school bureaucracy. In addition to the state Department of Education, there would be a statewide charter school bureaucracy.

“It’s creating a new school system that’s not accountable to the local needs,” said SC Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter. “It’s the antithesis of accountability.”

And while advocates say administrative costs would be limited for the new bureaucracy, it’s curious that one of the prime supporters of the bill, Gov. Mark Sanford, is pushing for more bureaucracy since he’s the fellow who is supposed to be against more government.

Scott Price, spokesman for the SC School Boards Association, says his group has no major problem with the new charter school initiative, except that it puts control of it under the governor’s office for the first few years, instead of at the Department of Education.

“What we don’t like about this legislation is a whole new oversight board,” he said. “We don’t feel we need to be growing government or government bureaucracy.”

It looks like the House will pass the charter school bill easily, but it might face more scrutiny in the Senate.

But what observers should really look for is an interesting political dynamic: Will some House members and senators use a vote for the charter school bill as a vote for school choice?

If they use this vote as a way to highlight how they’re for school choice, it could make it tougher for Sanford to pass his bigger school issue - - the “Put Parents In Charge” school voucher proposal.

We hear many Republican and Democratic lawmakers, particularly those that represent good school districts, are concerned about the impact of the voucher plan. But they also want to be “for” school choice. The charter bill might allow them to have their cake and eat it too.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
1/23: Let freedom ring

A still timely cartoon from our archives:


LEARN MORE DAILY

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


FEEDBACK
1/18: Power to the wealthy?

To the editor:

So let me see if I understand what this Libertarian Governor (Statehouse Report, 1/9) wants to do...as a Libertarian, he seeks to reduce government and the power of government to influence and of course intrude into the peoples private lives. Yes, and I say amen to that, and exact approach our founding fathers had in mind.

Except in the case of Governor Sanford, he seeks to transfer that government power into the hands of a wealthy few, all be them in the private sector, still to the hands of the powerful wealthy, certainly not us run of the mill working class dudes......... For example, one of his top advisors, and least experienced, was Mr. Chad Walldorf, who as of the last reporting cycle had given more than $11,000 in cash to the campaign.......hmmmmm.....you do the math on who Sanford is trying to bring to the government trough!

-- Sandy Gibson, Lexington, SC

SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Statehouse Report, Wilkins. We're giving ourselves a pat on the back this week for being a possible legislative spark. On Jan. 2, Statehouse Report said living people shouldn't have public structures named for them. Sixteen days later, House Speaker David Wilkins and others proposed just such a measure.

Jobs bill. The House this week approved the Jobs Creation Act, subject of last week's Hot Issue.

Mixed reviews

Ports, Jasper. There's a big battle brewing between Jasper County, the SC State Ports Authority and the Georgia Ports Authority over land in Jasper County and who will be able to use it (if at all) to create a new port. It seems like one big headache and a huge potential lawsuit.

Thumbs down

Sharpe. Former state Agriculture Commissioner Charles Sharpe cut a deal this week that led to a guilty plea related to a cockfighting case.

Ten Commandments. Thumbs down to a Senate Finance subcommittee that approved a measure that would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on Statehouse grounds. It's not needed and is divisive.


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