State awarded $5.7 million federal grant to boost ranks of charter schools

WASHINGTON – The South Carolina Department of Education has been awarded a $5.7 million federal grant to help create additional high quality charter schools in the Palmetto State.

The $5,670,000 allocation was announced by the Charter School Programs section of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement.  It represents two years of funding, with additional dollars anticipated for a third year.  The state is seeking funds for up to five years.

The grant is one of 12 totaling $136 million for state education agencies in Arkansas, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Texas in addition to South Carolina.  The largest award – $51,769,620 – went to California, while New Hampshire's $1,330,981 was the smallest.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the government will invest more than $256 million this year to assist in planning and implementation for charter schools and dissemination of their successful practices.  The aim is to expand the number of public charter school options available to students.

"The federal initiative is a good fit for the success we've had with supporting charter schools as a critical element of public school choice in South Carolina," said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.  "Our charter school enrollment has increased 124 percent over the last two years, and we're serious about maintaining a program that focuses on quality services for children."

The state's grant proposal includes:

  • intensive training and technical assistance to help groups develop feasible, ambitious charter schools;
  • promoting charters to serve at-risk students in high poverty areas, target closing achievement gaps and serve geographic areas currently without charter schools; and
  • creation of a leadership academy to prepare charter principals, plus training for established schools and for charter school board members.

"All of these elements will enable us to increase the number of charter schools and, most importantly, ensure that each school has the best opportunity for viability and every charter student has the best opportunity for achievement," Rex said.

Currently, more than 12,000 students are enrolled in the state's charter schools.  The grant-funded activities could result in up to 40 new high-quality charter schools opening over the next several years.

"Charter schools have an unlimited potential for growth as the state has no cap on the number of schools or their enrollments," Rex said.  "This funding helps ensure that when new charter schools are launched, they'll be aligned with our educational goals, sustainable and focused on student achievement."

The SDE's partners in the project included Frances Marion University's Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty, the South Carolina Public Charter School District, Palmetto Charter Network and the South Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools.