COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — A 92-page report from the Legislative Audit Council (LAC) points out the need for more accountability in public charter schools in South Carolina.
Public charter schools in South Carolina receive state and federal funding. They must meet education standards but have the freedom to operate how they’d like.
The South Carolina Public Charter School District was established in 2008. The review took a look at their procedures and policies.
Superintendent Chris Neeley said the demand for these types of schools is hitting new highs. “Between the two statewide authorizers, the Charter Institute at Erskine and our district, we’ve seen growth of 25% this past year,” he said.
According to Superintendent Neeley, the pandemic played a big role in this increase. Right now, 39 out of the nearly 70 public charter schools in the state are under the District.
The Legislative Audit Council report said accountability measures were ‘inconsistent between charter schools, inconsistent with industry standards and not properly documented.’
The review also said some underperforming schools moved to another authorizer (Erskine) over the objections of the District’s board of trustees in 2017. The LAC said this presents a challenge to accountability efforts and overall charter school quality.
To prevent this from happening, in August 2020, the District and Erskine signed a joint memorandum of agreement in which they agreed to suspend all school transfers for three years.
Superintendent Neeley said they appreciate the review and have implemented some of the recommendations sent to them by the LAC. He said, “When you pull the hood up on the car there is always going to be a few issues. We welcome the opportunity to have those issues brought forward to the light of day so we can fix them.”
Neeley said the District enforces what current state law requires them to do.
State lawmakers said they would like to make changes to state charter school law. They are hopeful to get this done before the three year suspension on school transfers is up. Representative Terry Alexander (D-District 59) was on a House Ad-Hoc Committee studying charter schools in South Carolina. He said the pandemic stalled efforts to pass legislation that would have made some changes.
He said, “Charter schools are supposed to be an alternative to help kids and improve kids education opportunities. Not to put them in the same rut as we see in our public educational system.”
The LAC report claims state charter school law remains mostly untouched after it was created in 1996.
Rep. Alexander said he would like to have some legislation ready for the rest of the General Assembly in 2022, “I’m hoping all of us can sit around the table to figure this out for children, tax payers and the work force here in South Carolina.”