Columbia, SC — It’s interesting that an education professor working at a private college where the tuition exceeds $40,000 per year has such insight into what is best for public-school parents, as Paul Thomas claims in his Dec. 12 guest column, “Charter schools not a smart investment for S.C.” Charter schools provide a valuable public-school option and operate with fewer resources, maximizing taxpayer investment and increasing innovative practices.
While state report cards are an important measure to consider, schools also are rated on federal accountability measures. Eight charter schools received a perfect score of 100 in 2013, while 19 received A’s. With this measure, charters do get similar results to traditional public schools, but use fewer resources in the process.
In its six years of operation, enrollment in the S.C. Public Charter School District has grown from 2,000 students to more than 14,000. The district projects growing by at least 3,000 students in the next year. Parents and students are speaking loud and clear about their desire to take advantage of the opportunities a charter-school environment offers.
Despite the successes we’ve seen with many of our charter schools, they are not without significant barriers. Our schools are prohibited by law from providing transportation to students. They often cannot pay teachers what they would make at a traditional school. If charter schools had dedicated facility funds, more operating funds could be used to pay teachers a competitive salary.
Some traditional districts have offered our virtual schools as a last option to their at-risk students before they drop out or are expelled. The influx of at-risk students into our schools has not been kind to our graduation rate, which in turn negatively affects accountability results.
Charter schools do not segregate by race or class. In our schools, 46.5 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals, 10 percent are students with disabilities, and approximately 30 percent identify as minority. All charter schools must accept any student eligible to attend public school, subject to space limitations. If demand is high, and it is for many of our schools, spots are assigned based on a blind lottery.
What South Carolina deserves is a public-education system that includes options allowing students from all backgrounds and with varying abilities and interests to succeed. While charter schools are not the answer for every student, they are a crucial piece of the puzzle in finding a way to serve all students.
Wayne Brazell, Ph.D.
Superintendent, S.C. Public Charter School District