GREENVILLE, S.C. - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Monday a bill expandingcharter schools, calling it a big first step in improving education by expanding options for parents who don't want to send their children to traditional public schools.
The new law allows boys-only and girls-only charter schools and requires traditional schools to open their doors for students who want to do extracurricular activities not offered by their charter school. It also allows universities to sponsor their own schools.
State Education Superintendent Mick Zais called it his chief legislative priority.
"Charter schools are not a magic bullet, but they are a tremendous step in the way to providing a personalized and customized education for every student — not a standardized and uniform education for every student," Zais said at the ceremony at Greenville Technical Charter High School.
South Carolina has 17,000 students in 47 charter schools. They are public schools overseen by a board of parents, teachers and community members, rather than a district board. They're subject to fewer regulations than traditional schools.
Eight more charter schools are scheduled to open before the end of 2012, with 13 new applications submitted to open in 2013 and 30 more planning groups considering their own charter schools, said Mary Carmichael, executive director of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina.
Zais said charter schools are critical because they allow teachers freedom to teach in different ways. He said they are also more accountable because if they don't meet parents' expectations, they won't stay open.
"A traditional school that fails gets more money," Zais said. "A charter school that is not satisfactory, closes."
Haley said charter schools increase competition in education, which she said is just as important as competition in free markets.
"Competition is even more needed in education because it lifts the quality of the teachers. It lifts the options for the students and it allows the parents to see the accountability," Haley said.
The governor said she hopes the bill she signed Monday is just the start of expanding education options in South Carolina, although she didn't specify what she would like to see next.
"This is just the first step of what education can look like in South Carolina," Haley said.