Originally created 12/01/99

School choice unlikely to pass this year



Parents who thought they would be able to choose next year which public school their child would attend need to think again.

Officials say state legislation designed to allow choice is unlikely to pass this year.

The issue of school choice got tangled in red tape Tuesday when a special South Carolina House committee created to study the matter recommended more probing. It took hours, but the 13-member panel finally had a suggestion for the state House speaker: create a task force to determine how the state could expand school choice options for parents and their children.

State Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, has filed a bill to create the task force that would include members appointed by House Speaker David Wilkins, Gov. Jim Hodges, Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, educators and businessmen.

One thing missing from the committee's draft report was the option of school vouchers -- giving parents state money to send their children to private schools. That was an option many parents wanted.

In the future, parents may have a choice in which public school they'll send their children to, but approval of that school choice plan is unlikely in the coming legislative session, although lawmakers are sure to talk about it.

"There are just too many legitimate questions that need to be addressed before final legislative approval is granted," said state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, who served on the special House committee.

Among them are how to implement and finance school choice. It's also unclear how the plan will affect financially strapped school districts if students start abandoning schools they attend now.

The committee's recommendations are the result of hours of public testimony on school choice. They were meant to include discussions about many forms of choice -- transfers within and outside school districts, magnet and alternative schools, and charter and home schools -- but talk mainly centered on vouchers. That was because state Rep. Lewis Vaughn, R-Taylors, penned a bill supporting them. He announced Tuesday that he's changed his mind about pushing for vouchers.

Under the task force recommendation, there are variations, including a provision allowing students to opt out of schools the state deems failing.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.