S.C. Panel Advances Public School Choice Bill

Friday, April 13, 2012

A South Carolina bill that expands students' educational options within public schools advanced Wednesday to a Senate committee.

Under the bill, which was approved on a voice vote Wednesday by a Senate Education subcommittee, school districts by 2014-15 would have to offer students at all grade levels at least one additional choice beyond the school they are zoned to attend. Options could include single-gender, Montessori and language-immersion programs, as well as magnet, charter, arts-intensive, extended-day and year-round schools.

It also allows students to attend any school regardless of attendance lines, even outside of their district, at no cost - a concept known as open enrollment. However, the bill allows officials to turn down a transfer application if a school is at capacity, and to limit the number of yearly transfers from another attendance zone to 3 percent of a school's population.

Supporters include associations of teachers, school boards and administrators - groups that oppose private school choice.

Republican state Superintendent Mick Zais would prefer that legislators lift the cap to allow for full open enrollment. He won't oppose the bill but doesn't support it either, said his spokesman Jay Ragley. The agency estimates that 20,000 students could transfer under the cap.

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