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Hilton Head Citizen Reporter: It’s Time for True School Choice

During a meeting of the Hilton Head Island First Monday Republican lunch group May 7, guest speaker S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais laid out the accomplishments of his past 16 months in office, as well as his goals for the future.

Without hesitation he stated that education doesn’t need to be reformed; it needs to be transformed. An important component of this transformation is school choice in all its forms. 

“The debate shouldn’t be about public education versus some other form of education,” Zais said. “It should be about high-performing schools versus low-performing schools.

“No child should be forced to attend a failing school,” he added, “and a child’s zip code should not determine their destiny.” 

Zais said he believes providing parents options in the kinds of schools their children attend is an important issue that must be addressed in the coming years.

South Carolina remains in the bottom third of states in reading and mathematics proficiency.

According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report, often cited as the nation’s report card, South Carolina’s fourth-graders rank 39th in reading (unchanged from 2009); 38th in eighth-grade reading (up four spots from 2009); 37th in fourth-grade mathematics (up one spot from 2009); and 34th in eighth-grade mathematics (down one spot from 2009).

You can view more NAEP data by clicking here, to see information from the S.C. Department of Education.

It is expected that Gov. Nikki Haley will ensure Zais realizes one of his top legislative priorities when she signs a strong charter school bill into law today during a ceremony at Greenville Technical Charter High School.

However, there is work left to be done to provide parents a full menu regarding school choice, including independent school choice.

Parents, not bureaucrats, should choose where their children are educated. Not a few believe that until such time as real choice is enacted in South Carolina, little will change.

Unfortunately, lobbying forces such as South Carolina School Boards Association, the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, the South Carolina Education Association and the Palmetto State Teachers Association have worked to discourage legislators from voting for any form of school choice that provides scholarships to low-income and special-needs students to enable them to attend independent schools that best serve their needs.

The 83 school districts in South Carolina are against any form of change to the status quo. They seek only to gather power and control over the parents and students zoned in their districts.

The good news is there is legislation moving through the General Assembly to provide parents more choices. 

But if it is to become law over the objections of the education establishment, parents will need to speak loud and clear. I am hopeful they will because being in the bottom third of states academically won’t bring more jobs to South Carolina. 

School choice is an idea whose time has come; let us seize the moment to secure the future for our children and grandchildren.

Tom Hatfield, a Citizen Reporter for The Nerve who lives in Hilton Head, is a founding member of the statewide Public Charter School District. He has been active in the charter school movement for more than 10 years.

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school choice Mick Zais K-12 charter schools education