By Robert Kittle
Parents would be able to send their children to public schools in other districts if they want to, under a bill passed by the South Carolina Senate Education Committee Wednesday morning. The bill would create statewide public school open enrollment.
There would be limits, however. Whether a particular school accepts any students from another district would depend on whether space is available, and a school could not accept out-of-district transfers “in excess of three percent of the school's highest average daily membership in any year from the preceding ten-year period. The acceptance of students residing outside of the attendance area for a particular school must be phased in at a yearly increase of one percent of the average daily membership of the school in the immediately preceding year.”
High school junior Hannah Barton goes to Richland Northeast High outside Columbia, even though she's zoned to go to Spring Valley. Richland District 2 has had a school choice program within the district for years, and Barton has been able to choose which elementary, middle and high school she wanted to attend.
“Everybody should get the opportunity, if they want to go to a choice school, and better their education or find what they're interested in. I think it's a really great opportunity,” she says.
But parent Jennifer Reed, whose daughter is in a school choice program in Richland 2, has a concern about the bill. “Even within the district, we, if we choose to go to another school that we're not zoned to, we have to provide that transportation. And I know that sometimes transportation is limiting for some families,” she says.
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, sponsor of the bill, says transportation would be provided. “What we envision is the two districts working together on getting that child to the school, and that's easier said than done. And that's one of the issues we're going to have to iron out in the pilot program,” he says.
To prevent athletes from transferring into powerhouse programs solely for athletic reasons, students would not be allowed to participate in interscholastic sports for one year after transferring.
The bill sets up a pilot program in its first year that school districts would participate in voluntarily.
Similar bills have passed in the legislature before but fell short. Last year, a similar bill passed on second reading in the state Senate but did not come up for a vote on third reading before the legislature adjourned for the year. And the House and Senate passed a similar bill before, but then-governor Mark Sanford vetoed it and lawmakers didn't have the votes to override his veto.
The bill now goes to the full Senate.