Charter schools

1996 –

Charter schools are intended to improve learning, increase opportunities, encourage innovative teaching methods, establish new forms of accountability, create professional opportunities for teachers, and to generally assist South Carolina in reaching academic excellence.

South Carolina law defines a charter school as a “public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, nonhome-based, nonprofit corporation forming a school which operates within a public school district.” Charter schools are semi-autonomous public schools that operate under contract with local school boards for a charter of three years. Nationally, the first charter school opened in 1991 in Minnesota. Five years later, in 1996, the South Carolina General Assembly and Governor David Beasley approved the Charter School Act, joining twenty-four other states that had authorized charter schools. State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum stated that “South Carolina charter schools offer avenues by which parents, teachers, and community members can take risks and create new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating their children within the public school system.” In December 1997 the State Department of Education awarded four implementation grants of up to $150,000 each and eighteen planning grants of up to $40,000. Eight charter schools were in operation in South Carolina by the fall of 2001.

Charter schools are intended to improve learning, increase opportunities, encourage innovative teaching methods, establish new forms of accountability, create professional opportunities for teachers, and to generally assist South Carolina in reaching academic excellence. Charter schools are small. Across the nation, the median enrollment is 137 students per school. In South Carolina, per school enrollment ranges from 15 to 200 students with a mean of 70 students. Challenges faced by charter schools include start-up costs, obtaining suitable facilities, creating time for planning, maintaining cash flow, and attracting and maintaining staff and students. In South Carolina and the nation, supporters emphasize the ability of charter schools to stimulate change in the public education system, create a competitive market to force change, and highlight autonomy as a means of facilitating innovative educational models.

Critics argue that charter schools accelerate the “brain drain” effect on traditional schools, siphon off scarce financial support, and erode support for public schools. In 1997 the Beaufort County school board rejected an application for a proposed charter school, fearing that the new school would become “a white enclave in a district split almost evenly between blacks and whites.” In 2000 a South Carolina judge ruled the state’s charter school law unconstitutional due to its clause that the racial makeup of charter school enrollments cannot differ from that of its host school district by more than ten percent. Without racial quotas, however, many are concerned that charter schools have the potential to resegregate schooling. Such controversies have combined to limit the number of charter schools in South Carolina to just thirteen schools as of 2002, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Supporters, however, contend that charter schools are a response to the erosion of support for public education. In 1999 U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, a former governor of South Carolina, declared, “The outpouring of involvement [in charter schools] is a testament to the American ideal of quality education for all, community service, and the power of grass roots efforts to bring about change.”

Bowman, Darcia Harris. “Judge Overturns South Carolina’s Charter School Law.” Education Week 19 (May 24, 2000): 25.

Smith, Gina. “Judges to Review Racial Quotas in Charter Schools.” Columbia State, December 4, 2002, pp. A1, A9.

Sweeney, Nicole. “Charter School Offers Unique Alternative.” Columbia State, December 15, 2002, pp. D1, D5.

United States. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Education Resources Information Center. A Study of Charter Schools. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1997–2000.

Weil, Danny. Charter Schools: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2000.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Charter schools
  • Coverage 1996 –
  • Author
  • Keywords innovative teaching methods, change in the public education system, semi-autonomous public schools
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 5, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 20, 2022
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