Originally created 02/17/99

Alternative school bill debate starts



COLUMBIA -- The House began debate Tuesday on a bill that would require every school district in South Carolina to offer an alternative school to handle disruptive students by August.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, would force districts without alternative schools already in place to offer them for students in grades six through 12. Roughly half of the state's 86 school districts already have alternative schools, according to the Education Department.

Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum has called for more alternative schools to combat crime in public schools.

Mr. Walker's bill would provide about $18 million in state money each year while districts would pitch in a total of about $7 million. Districts could share alternative schools, Mr. Walker said.

"We all realize that we have a situation with the disruptive students that we need to address," Mr. Walker said. "These schools will not be dumping grounds just to get students out of the regular schools and just forget about them."

Lawmakers approved an amendment that detailed which students would be sent to the new schools and for what disruptions. But they tabled a proposal that would have allowed districts to contract out disruptive students to private schools, which some lawmakers said could lead to more privatization of public schools.

"When we talk about privatization, this is not the place to do that litmus test," said Rep. Ronny Townsend, R-Anderson.