School choice in South Carolina

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See also

School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

School choice options in South Carolina include: charter schools, a tax incentive program, inter-district open enrollment policies and online learning programs. In addition, about 7.46 percent of school age children in the state attended private schools in the 2011-12 academic year, and an estimated 2.67 percent were homeschooled in 2012-13.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

See also: Charter schools in South Carolina

The South Carolina Department of Education defines charter schools as follows:[3]

The South Carolina Charter Schools Act of 1996 defines a charter school as a public, nonreligious, non home-based, nonprofit corporation forming a school that operates by sponsorship of a public school district, the South Carolina Public Charter School District, or a public or independent institution of higher learning, but is accountable to the board of trustees, or in the case of technical colleges, the area commission, of the sponsor which grants its charter.[4]

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there were 55 charter schools operating in South Carolina in the 2012-13 academic year. During that time, charter schools enrolled 20,186 students.[5][6]

Charter school authorizers are, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the organizations "designated to approve, monitor, renew, and, if necessary, close charter schools." As of June 2014, the organizations in the following table were listed by NACSA as charter school authorizers in South Carolina:[7]

Magnet schools

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects.[8][9]

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,949 magnet schools in the United States. In that year, South Carolina had 137 magnet schools that served 98,980 students. Approximately 57 percent of students enrolled in South Carolina magnet schools were classified as a minority. That percentage of students was predominately black. This was higher than South Carolina's average of 48 percent minority enrollment. The state also reported an average student:teacher ratio of 15:1 in magnet schools, which is lower than the state average of 16:1 in traditional public schools. The table below lists this information again and compares it to South Carolina's neighboring states.[10][11]

Magnet school participation, 2011-2012
State Magnet schools in the state Students in magnet schools Minority enrollment percentage Student:teacher ratio
South Carolina 137 98,980 57% 15:1
Georgia 21 11,129 77% 15:1
North Carolina 111 73,542 69% 14:1
Tennessee 132 95,317 69% 16:1
Source: Public School Review, "Public School Review state magnet school pages," accessed December 12, 2014

School vouchers and tax incentives

South Carolina offers one school choice tax incentive program:

  • Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children: Under this program, individuals, partnerships, corporations and other such entities may claim a 100 percent tax credit for contributions to certain Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofit organizations that award private school scholarships. Eligible participants can claim tax credits up to 60 percent of their total tax liability. Total funding for this program is capped at $8 million. The maximum amount of a scholarship funded by this program is $10,000. Scholarships may be applied to tuition, transportation, textbook expenses, or any combination thereof at qualifying private schools. To be eligible, students must have been designated by the South Carolina Department of Education as being a "child with a disability" (in accordance with federal standards). Also, parents of qualifying students "must believe the assigned public school district does not sufficiently meet the student's needs."[12]

Online learning

According to Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, there are six online charter schools in South Carolina. Taken together, these schools enrolled 8,130 students in the 2012-13 academic year. The state-led online learning program, the South Carolina Virtual School Program (SCVSP), offers supplemental courses to all students under the age of 21. There are district-level online programs, as well.[13]

Private schools

In the 2011-12 school year, 54,130 students, or 7.46 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 341 private schools. South Carolina ranks 35th highest in the nation in private school attendance.[14]

Public school open enrollment

According to the Education Commission of the States, there are two open enrollment policies in South Carolina:[15]

  1. Inter-district voluntary policy
  2. Inter-district voluntary policy, which allows "any student that is better accommodated at the school of an adjoining school district to transfer to that school with the consent of the board of trustees of the school district in which the school is located"

Intra-district policies provide for the transfer of students within a school district, while inter-district policies allow students to transfer between districts. Under mandatory open enrollment policies, school districts are required to participate. Under voluntary policies, school districts may choose whether to participate.[15]


In South Carolina in 2012-2013 an estimated 20,906 students, or 2.67 percent of the total student-aged population, were homeschooled.[16]

A summary of the state's laws relating to homeschooling can be accessed here.

Studies and reports

Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

In 2014 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a description of and commentary on school choice options in the United States. Regarding the Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children Program, the foundation said, "South Carolina’s first school choice program is a good first step for the state’s students, but could be improved upon. For example, the program’s scholarship funding fails to take into account the actual cost of serving a particular student’s exceptional educational needs. Additionally, the $8 million cap on credits will likely limit the number of scholarships SFOs are able to award. To improve upon this new opportunity, South Carolina needs to increase eligibility beyond students with exceptionalities and raise the limit on tax credits available to donors, similar to what its neighbor to the south, Florida, has done with its tax-credit scholarship program."[17]

The full report can be accessed here.

School choice ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of South Carolina ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no statewide ballot measures relating to school choice in South Carolina.

Recent news

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South Carolina School Choice News Feed

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See also


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. South Carolina State Department of Education, "Charter Schools Program," accessed June 24, 2014
  4. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Schools - South Carolina," accessed June 24, 2014
  6. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Students - South Carolina," accessed June 24, 2014
  7. National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "South Carolina Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014
  8. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  9. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  10. National Center for Education Statistics, "Selected statistics from the common core of data: School year 2011-2012," accessed December 12, 2014
  11. Public School Review, "South Carolina magnet schools," accessed December 12, 2014
  12. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "South Carolina - Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children," accessed June 24, 2014
  13. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, "South Carolina," accessed June 24, 2014
  14. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 Education Commission of the States, "Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," accessed June 23, 2014
  16. A2Z Home's Cool, "Number of Homeschoolers in the USA," updated February 2, 2014
  17. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice - 2014 Edition," accessed June 18, 2014