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Let’s Keep Fighting for Quality School Choice in South Carolina

Cheering students. Rousing speeches. Yellow scarves. Big events. You know what that means: it’s National School Choice Week! As this week comes to a close, I’m reflecting on our work at the South Carolina Public Charter School District—a statewide sponsor of charter schools founded on the principles of choice and innovation—and thinking about the role that we play in offering quality choices to South Carolina families. Over the last few years, our schools have made incredible strides—they are higher performing and more diverse than ever—and we still have much to do in order to extend the promise of choice to families across South Carolina.

As we close out the week—and charge forward driving a mission of quality school choice—three key reflections rise to the surface

  1. Every family should be able to choose a quality school for their child. Ultimately, school choice is about family rights. Every family deserves great school options. School choice conversations can easily turn political or strategic—e.g., as an approach to reforming school districts—but ultimately, what we celebrate most this week, and what we fight for, is the inherent right of every family to place their child in a high quality school.
  2. In far too many places across South Carolina, families don’t have quality choices—especially families of color and families who live in poverty. My kids have access to great schools because I have the income and connections necessary to buy a house in a neighborhood with a great school and to choose a nearby charter school. Unfortunately, so many families in South Carolina are stuck in schools that fail their kids year after year. This has a devastating impact on children who shuffle through a system where the majority of students—including three out of four African-American students—haven’t even been taught the basics of reading and writing. We must act urgently to reform our school choice system so that choice is equitable, with an emphasis on placing quality where it does not exist, for families who have been robbed of choices for centuries.
  3. Charters play a central role in bringing equity and access to our system of school choice. I’m so proud of the work of our schools to bring a quality education where it is needed most. Our schools have a wide range of themes and approaches to learning, all of which connect meaningfully with students and families and offer something different, customized, and innovative. Charter entrepreneurialism and autonomy make our schools uniquely positioned to nimbly meet the needs of families. If we double down on our recent focus on accountability, access, and equity, we will ensure that charter schools play an even bigger role in providing quality school choice across South Carolina—and act as a solution to our state’s education challenges.

 

As we celebrate National School Choice Week, these things are clear. Choice matters—all families should have a right to choose quality schools for their children. Unfortunately, in South Carolina, many families do not have choice, and these choice inequities fall largely along race and poverty lines. School choice should be closing achievement and opportunity gaps—not growing them. We must act urgently to change these historical injustices. And charters are central to all of this! I’m more optimistic than ever about the work of SCPCSD charters to bring equity, access and quality to our system of choices in South Carolina. We’ll keep fighting for every family’s right to choose a great school and to make sure charters are on every family’s list of options!

 

-Elliot Smalley, SCPCSD Superintendent