Charter schools defining the 'business of education'

By Stacy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- When experts and parents talk about charter schools, it sounds like they are making a business decision. As a result, when schools lose their charter, officials say it's most often because of financial matters.

"Shop as you would for a product you're buying for your home, " said Dr. Nancy McGinley, superintendent of the Charleston County School District.

"This is a free-market education system," said Brian Thomas, whose daughter attends Charleston Charter School for Math and Science and who sits on that school's charter board.

"Parents just need to be aware of being an informed consumer," said Dean George Met of Charleston Southern University's School of Education.

According to Metz, business is the latest buzz word in education.

"The charter school system nationwide was a response to failing schools. Here in South Carolina, the recent legislation not even 20 years old provides parents with the choice," he said.

Each charter school has its own board that handles finances, curriculum and staffing. That board is insulated from the county school board, which can only intervene in very extreme circumstances.

One administrator per charter school must be certified or have previous administrative experience, officials said. That administrator does not have to be the principal.

"There are issues relative to accountability," McGinley said. "Our elected county board can't go in and say, 'Close the school down because academics are poor.'"

"I think there's more accountability, maybe not to the government or the county, but certainly to parents," Thomas said.

Charleston County has nine charter schools, including Apple Charter on James Island. That school will close after this school year, after officials saidCCSD found its board let the school fall in to deep debt.

McGinley said it was an example of the worst of charter schools.

But Thomas was confident his daughter's school, where he serves on the board, gave her the best option.

"The parents have more of an on-hands approach, easier access to teachers. We feel like we have more control for our child's education and what they're doing here at the school," Thomas said.

He knew, though, his daughter is lucky he is invested in her education. For children with uninvolved parents, charter schools and the business of education might be too much of an investment.

Still, the number of charter schools in South Carolina is set to double over the next decade, Metz said.