Thursday, May 3, 2012

Zais's plan to discard public schools inches ahead

Let's see: It's a proposal that brings back segregation -- by gender, this time, but the die is cast -- and opens public school athletic programs to students who are not enrolled in those public schools.

In essence, it turns traditional public schools into a neighborhood Boys Club and Girls Club, with teachers and a cafeteria.

So we're one step closer to dismantling public education for good, which brings satisfaction to the state Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais.

The Post & Courier fills in the rest:

Palmetto State charter school supporters are celebrating the passage of a sweeping set of changes they say will benefit their public schools.

South Carolina lawmakers have adopted bill H. 3241 that proponents say would strengthen the state’s public charter schools. Some of the bill’s provisions include:

Allowing higher-education institutions to approve charter schools to open.

Permitting single-gender charter schools to exist.

Letting charter school students participate in extracurricular or athletic activities at their neighborhood school if those aren’t offered at their charter school.

“It’s going to result in students’ excelling academically and truly moving South Carolina forward,” said Mary Carmichael, executive director of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, which has been a driving force behind the legislation.

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not governed by county school boards. They instead have separate boards to make decisions about funding, policy and curriculum.

Yes, because local control is good only when lawmakers say it's good. When local control is bad, lawmakers disallow it.

About 18,000 students are enrolled in 47 charter schools statewide. Charleston has nine brick-and-mortar charter schools, eight of which are open only to county residents. Lowcountry students also can enroll in online charter schools.

The state passed its charter school law in 1996, and lawmakers made significant changes in 2006, such as creating an alternative authorizer, the state Public Charter School District, and allowing virtual charter schools.

The new legislation is the biggest overhaul of the state’s rules on charter schools since then, Carmichael said.

Proponents of the bill have been working for nearly three years on this with Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

They looked at the national model for state charter school law and tried to change South Carolina’s to be higher quality. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked the state’s law No. 25 nationally, saying it needed to be adjusted to ensure equitable funding and access to capital money and facilities.

This is tragicomic. Supporters of traditional public schools -- you know, the ones that enroll 700,000 public schoolchildren in South Carolina -- want their schools to be higher quality, too. National rankings credit us for the quality of curriculum and instruction, but they rank us pretty poorly for support of our schools. And there's a 14-year-old lawsuit called Abbeville v South Carolina that asks the courts to order equitable funding for our public schools. But none of these things seems to matter.

If only traditional public schools had an advocate like Rep. Phil Owens working on their behalf for three years, traditional public schools might find themselves the beneficiaries of increased funding and better facilities.

How do we get one of those?

The original bill included a provision that called for local funds to follow students, regardless of where they enrolled, but that was eliminated. Carmichael said that’s an issue that still needs to be addressed and will be worked on going forward.

“That’s something we know long term we need to have,” she said.

Scott Price is attorney for the South Carolina School Boards Association, which serves and represents the interest of traditional school boards that sometimes clash with charter schools.

The association had some concerns with the bill, particularly the issue of the funding following the child. Estimates showed that districts could have taken a $25 million hit were that to happen, he said.

The association also had a problem with allowing charter school students to participate in extracurricular and athletic activities elsewhere, because it could be to the detriment of other children enrolled in neighborhood schools, he said.

Sure. Jimmy, enrolled in the traditional public school, wants to participate on the football team; Jimmy's talented and qualified, and he's enrolled in the school that sponsors the team, for cryin' out loud.

But Bruiser attends the charter school across the highway, and he wants to play football at Jimmy's school because the charter school doesn't have a football team, and Bruiser wants to play for Clemson one day. Coach is feeling substantial pressure to let Bruiser on the team; Bruiser's dad's name is Deacon, and Deacon got Senator to give Coach a call. Now, Bruiser can't add, subtract or do long division, but who cares? Bruiser's big and can run. Result: Jimmy gets to play Fantasy Football on his X-Box at home, while Bruiser gets Locker Number One in the traditional public school's locker room.

If you think this won't happen, you must live outside South Carolina.

The association supported some of the bill’s provisions, such as allowing single-gender schools and ensuring an appropriate timeline for school districts to turn over state and federal funds to charter schools.

In the end, “it’s something we can work with,” he said.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais praised the passage of the new law and thanked lawmakers for it.

“The General Assembly has renewed its commitment to providing parents a choice in the school their children attend,” he said in a statement. “A one-size-fits-all model of education simply doesn’t work for many students. Public charter schools are laboratories of innovation where the interests of students come first.”

And South Carolina's Department of Education is now a laboratory for expensive experimentation where the interests of traditional public schools and their 700,000 enrolled schoolchildren come last.

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