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Title 59 - Education
This chapter is known and may be cited as the "South Carolina Charter Schools Act of 1996".
This chapter is enacted to:
(1) improve student learning;
(2) increase learning opportunities for students;
(3) encourage the use of a variety of productive teaching methods;
(4) establish new forms of accountability for schools;
(5) create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site; and
(6) assist South Carolina in reaching academic excellence.
In authorizing charter schools, it is the intent of the General Assembly to create a legitimate avenue for parents, teachers, and community members to take responsible risks and create new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating all children within the public school system. The General Assembly seeks to create an atmosphere in South Carolina's public school systems where research and development in producing different learning opportunities is actively pursued, and where classroom teachers are given the flexibility to innovate and the responsibility to be accountable. As such, the provisions of this chapter should be interpreted liberally to support the findings and goals of this chapter and to advance a renewed commitment by the State of South Carolina to the mission, goals, and diversity of public education.
As used in this chapter:
(1) A "charter school" means a public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, nonhome-based, nonprofit corporation forming a school which operates within a public school district, but is accountable to the local school board of trustees of that district, which grants its charter.
(2) A charter school:
(a) is considered a public school and part of the school district in which it is located for the purposes of state law and the state constitution;
(b) is subject to all federal and state laws and constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry, or need for special education services;
(c) must be administered and governed by a governing body in a manner agreed to by the charter school applicant and the sponsor, the governing body to be selected in the manner provided in Section 59-40-50(B)(8);
(d) shall not charge tuition or other charges of any kind except as may be allowed by the sponsor.
(3) "Applicant" means the person who desires to form a charter school and files the necessary application therefor with the local school board of trustees. The applicant also must be the person who applies to the Secretary of State to organize the charter school as a nonprofit corporation.
(4) "Sponsor" means the local school board of trustees established as provided by law, from which the charter school applicant requested its charter, and which granted approval for the charter school's existence.
(5) "Certified teacher" means a person certified by the State of South Carolina to teach in a public elementary or secondary school.
(6) "Noncertified teacher" means an individual considered appropriately qualified for the subject matter taught, and who has been approved by the charter committee of the school.
(7) "Charter committee" means the governing body of a charter school and also shall be the board of directors of the corporation which must be organized.
Exemption; powers and duties; admission to charter school.
(A) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, a charter school is exempt from all provisions of law and regulations applicable to a public school, a school board, or a district, although a charter school may elect to comply with one or more of these provisions of law or regulations.
(B) A charter school shall:
(1) adhere to the same health, safety, civil rights, and disability rights requirements as are applied to public schools operating in the same school district;
(2) meet, but may exceed, the same minimum student attendance requirements as are applied to public schools operating in the same district;
(3) adhere to the same financial audits, audit procedures, and audit requirements as are applied to public schools operating in the same school district;
(4) be considered a school district for purposes of tort liability under South Carolina law, except that the tort immunity shall not include acts of intentional or wilful racial discrimination by the governing body or employees of the charter school. Employees of charter schools shall be relieved of personal liability for any tort or contract related to their school to the same extent that employees of traditional public schools in their school district are relieved;
(5) in its discretion hire noncertified teachers in a ratio of up to twenty-five percent of its entire teacher staff; however, if it is a converted charter school, it shall in its discretion hire noncertified teachers in a ratio of up to ten percent of its entire teacher staff. Part-time noncertified teachers shall be considered pro rata in calculating this percentage based on the hours which they are expected to teach;
(6) admit all children eligible to attend public school in a school district who are eligible to apply for admission to a charter school operating in that school district, subject to space limitations. However, under no circumstances may a charter school enrollment differ from the racial composition of the school district by more than ten percent. If the number of applications exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level, or building, students shall be accepted by lot, and there is no appeal to the sponsor;
(7) not limit or deny admission or show preference in admission decisions to any individual or group of individuals; provided, however, that a charter school may give enrollment priority to a sibling of a pupil already enrolled and children of a charter school employee;
(8) elect its governing body annually. All employees of the charter school and all parents or guardians of students enrolled in the charter school shall be eligible to participate in the election. Parents or guardians of a student shall have one vote for each student enrolled in the charter school. At all times, the governing body of the charter school shall include one or more teachers;
(9) be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, including the charter school and its governing body.
(C)(1) If a charter school denies admission to a student, the student may appeal the denial to the school board of trustees. The decision shall be binding on the student and the charter school.
(2) If a charter school suspends or expels a student, the school district shall have the authority but not the obligation to refuse admission to the student.
(3) The sponsor shall have no obligation to provide extracurricular activities or access to facilities of the school district for students enrolled in the charter school.
Charter application; revision; formation of charter school; charter committee; application requirements.
(A) An approved charter application constitutes an agreement, and the terms shall be the terms of a contract between the charter school and the sponsor.
(B) The contract between the charter school and the sponsor shall reflect all agreements regarding the release of the charter school from local school district policies.
(C) A material revision of the terms of the contract between the charter school and the approving board may be made only with the approval of both parties.
(D) Except as provided in subsection (F), an applicant who wishes to form a charter school shall:
(1) organize the charter school as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of this State;
(2) elect a charter committee for the charter school which includes one or more teachers;
(3) submit a written charter school application to the local school board of trustees for the school district in which the charter school will be located.
(E) A charter committee shall be responsible for and have the power to:
(1) submit an application to operate as a charter school, sign a charter school contract, and ensure compliance with all of the requirements for charter schools provided by law;
(2) employ and contract with teachers and nonteaching employees, contract for other services, and develop pay scales, performance criteria, and discharge policies for its employees. All teachers whether certified or noncertified must undergo the background checks and other investigations required for certified teachers as provided by law before they may teach in the charter school; and
(3) decide all other matters related to the operation of the charter school, including budgeting, curriculum, and operating procedures.
(F) The charter school application shall be a proposed contract and shall include:
(1) the mission statement of the charter school, which must be consistent with the principles of the General Assembly's purposes as set forth in Section 59-40-20;
(2) the goals, objectives, and pupil achievement standards to be achieved by the charter school, and a description of the charter school's admission policies and procedures;
(3) evidence that an adequate number of parents, teachers, pupils, or any combination thereof support the formation of a charter school;
(4) a description of the charter school's educational program, pupil achievement standards, and curriculum, which must meet or exceed any content standards adopted by the school district in which the charter school is located and must be designed to enable each pupil to achieve these standards;
(5) a description of the charter school's plan for evaluating pupil achievement and progress toward accomplishment of the school's achievement standards in addition to state assessments, the timeline for meeting these standards, and the procedures for taking corrective action in the event that pupil achievement falls below the standards;
(6) evidence that the plan for the charter school is economically sound, a proposed budget for the term of the charter, a description of the manner in which an annual audit of the financial and administrative operations of the charter school, including any services provided by the school district, is to be conducted;
(7) a description of the governance and operation of the charter school, including the nature and extent of parental, professional educator, and community involvement in the governance and operation of the charter school;
(8) a description of how the charter school plans to ensure that the enrollment of the school is similar to the racial composition of the school district;
(9) a description of how the charter school plans to meet the transportation needs of its pupils;
(10) a description of the building, facilities, and equipment and how they shall be obtained;
(11) an explanation of the relationship that shall exist between the proposed charter school and its employees, including descriptions of evaluation procedures and evidence that the terms and conditions of employment have been addressed with affected employees;
(12) a description of a reasonable grievance and termination procedure as required by this chapter, including notice and a hearing before the governing body of the charter school. The application shall state whether or not the provisions of Article 5, Chapter 25 of Title 59 will apply to the employment and dismissal of teachers at the charter school;
(13) a description of student rights and responsibilities, including behavior and discipline standards, and a reasonable hearing procedure, including notice and a hearing before the board of directors of the charter school prior to expulsion;
(14) an assumption of liability by the charter school for the activities of the charter school and an agreement that the charter school will indemnify and hold harmless the school district, its servants, agents, and employees, from any and all liability, damage, expense, causes of action, suits, claims, or judgments arising from injury to persons or property or otherwise which arises out of the act, failure to act or negligence of the charter school, its agents and employees, in connection with or arising out of the activity of the charter school; and
(15) a description of the types and amounts of insurance coverage to be obtained by the charter school.
Local school board to receive application; hearings; denial of application; amendment of application; approval.
(A) The local school board may establish a schedule for receiving applications from charter schools and shall make a copy of any schedule available to all interested parties upon request. If the local school board finds the charter school application is incomplete or fails to meet the spirit and intent of this chapter, it immediately shall request the necessary information from the charter applicant.
(B) After giving reasonable public notice, the local school board shall hold community meetings in the affected areas or the entire school district to obtain information to assist it in their decision to grant a charter school application. The local school board shall rule on the application for a charter school in a public hearing, upon reasonable public notice, within ninety days after receiving the application. If there is no ruling within ninety days, the application is considered approved.
(C) A local school board of trustees shall only deny an application if the application does not meet the requirements specified in Section 59-40-50 or 59-40-60, fails to meet the spirit and intent of this chapter, or adversely affects other students in the district. It shall provide, within ten days, a written explanation of the reasons for denial, citing specific provisions of Section 59-40-50 or 59-40-60 that the application violates. This written explanation immediately shall be sent to the charter committee and filed with the State Board of Education.
(D) If the local school board of trustees denies a charter school application, the charter applicant may amend its application to conform with the reasons for denial and reapply to the local board, which has thirty days to approve or deny the application, or may appeal the denial to the State Board of Education pursuant to Section 59-40-90.
(E) If the local school board approves the application, it becomes the charter school's sponsor and shall sign the approved application which shall constitute a contract with the charter committee of the charter school. A copy of the charter shall be filed with the State Board of Education.
Conditional authorization of charter school.
A local school board may conditionally authorize a charter school before the applicant has secured its space, equipment, facilities, and personnel if the applicant indicates such authority is necessary for it to meet the requirements of this chapter. Conditional authorization does not give rise to any equitable or other claims based on reliance, notwithstanding any promise, parole, written, or otherwise, contained in the authorization or acceptance of it, whether preceding or following the conditional authorization.
Appeal to State Board of Education.
(A) The State Board of Education, upon receipt of a notice of appeal or upon its own motion, shall review a decision of any local school board of trustees concerning charter schools in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(B) A charter applicant who wishes to appeal an adverse decision shall provide the State Board of Education and the local school board of trustees with a notice of appeal within ten days of the local board's decision.
(C) If the notice of appeal or the motion to review by the State Board of Education relates to a local board's decision to deny, refuse to renew, or revoke a charter, the appeal and review process shall be:
(1) within thirty days after receipt of the notice of appeal or the making of a motion to review by the State Board of Education and after reasonable public notice, the State Board of Education, at a public hearing which may be held in the district where the proposed charter school is located, shall review the decision of the local school board of trustees and make its findings known. The state board may affirm, reverse, or remand the application for action by the local board in accordance with an order of the state board. If the state board remands the application, it shall do so with written instructions for reconsideration. These instructions shall include specific recommendations concerning the matters requiring reconsideration;
(2) within thirty days following the remand of a decision to the local board of trustees and with reasonable public notice, the local school board of trustees, at a public hearing, shall reconsider its decision and make a final decision. No further administrative appeal may be taken from this decision. However, any final decision of the local school board of trustees after remand from the state board or a final decision of the state board may be appealed by any party to the circuit court for the county in which the proposed charter school is or was to have located.
Conversion to charter school.
(A) An existing public school may be converted into a charter school if two-thirds of the faculty and instructional staff employed at the school and two-thirds of all parents or legal guardians of students enrolled in the school agree to the filing of an application with the local school board of trustees for the conversion and formation of that school into a charter school. The application shall be submitted by the principal of that school or his designee who shall be deemed the applicant. The application shall include all information required of other applications under this chapter. The local school board of trustees shall approve or disapprove this application in the same manner it approves or disapproves other applications.
(B) A converted charter school shall offer at least the same grades, or nongraded education appropriate for the same ages and education levels of pupils, as offered by the school immediately before conversion, and also may provide additional grades and further educational offerings.
(C) Teachers and other employees of a converted school who desire to teach or work at the converted school may do so but shall remain employees of the local school district with the same compensation and benefits including any future increases therein. The converted charter school quarterly shall reimburse the local school district for the compensation and employer contribution benefits paid to or on behalf of these teachers and employees. The provisions of Article 5, Chapter 25 of Title 59 will apply to the employment and dismissal of teachers at a converted school.
Duration of charter; renewal; revocation; termination.
(A) A charter may be approved or renewed for a period not to exceed three school years.
(B) A charter renewal application shall be submitted to the school's sponsor, and it shall contain:
(1) a report on the progress of the charter school in achieving the goals, objectives, pupil achievement standards, and other terms of the initially approved charter application; and
(2) a financial statement that discloses the costs of administration, instruction, and other spending categories for the charter school that is understandable to the general public and that will allow comparison of these costs to other schools or other comparable organizations, in a format required by the State Board of Education.
(C) A charter may be revoked or not renewed by the sponsor if it determines that the charter school:
(1) committed a material violation of the conditions, standards, or procedures set forth in the charter application;
(2) failed to meet or make reasonable progress toward pupil achievement standards identified in the charter application;
(3) failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management; or
(4) violated any provision of law from which the charter school was not specifically exempted.
(D) At least sixty days before not renewing or terminating a charter school, the sponsor shall notify the charter school's governing body of the proposed action in writing. The notification shall state the grounds for the proposed action in reasonable detail. Termination must follow the procedure set forth herein.
(E) The charter school's governing body may request in writing a hearing before the sponsor within fourteen days of receiving notice of nonrenewal or termination of the charter. Failure by the school's governing body to make a written request for a hearing within fourteen days shall be treated as acquiescence to the proposed action. Upon receiving a timely written request for a hearing, the sponsor shall give reasonable notice to the school's governing body of the hearing date. The sponsor shall conduct a hearing before taking final action. The sponsor shall take final action to renew or not renew a charter by the last day of classes in the last school year for which the charter school is authorized.
(F) A decision to revoke or not to renew a charter school may be appealed to the state board pursuant to the provisions of Section 59-40-90.
Dissolution of charter school.
Upon dissolution of a charter school, its assets may not inure to the benefit of any private person. Any assets obtained through restricted agreements with a donor through awards, grants, or gifts shall be returned to that entity. All other assets become property of the sponsor.
Leave to be employed at charter school; continuation of benefits; exceptions.
(A) If an employee of a local school district makes a written request for a leave to be employed at a charter school, the school district shall grant the leave for up to five years as requested by the employee. The school district may require that the request for leave or extension of leave be made by the date under state law for the return of teachers' contracts. Employees may return to employment with the local school district at its option with the same teaching or administrative contract status as when they left, but without assurance as to the school or supplemental position to which they may be assigned.
(B) During a leave, the employee may continue to accrue benefits and credits in the South Carolina Retirement System by paying the employee contributions based upon the annual salary of the employee, and the charter school shall pay the employer contribution. The South Carolina Retirement System may impose reasonable requirements to administer this section.
(C) The provisions of this section do not apply to teachers and other employees of a converted school whose employment relation shall be governed by Section 59-40-100(C).
Distribution of resources; periodic reports; technical assistance from sponsor; property rights; tax exemption.
(A) A sponsor shall distribute state, county, and school district funds to a charter school as determined by the following formula: The previous year's audited total general fund expenditures including capital outlay and maintenance, but not including expenditures from bonded indebtedness or debt repayment shall be divided by the previous year's weighted students, then increased by the Education Finance Act inflation factor, pursuant to Section 59-20-40, for the years following the audited expenditures, then multiplied by the weighted students enrolled in the charter school, which will be subject to adjustment for student attendance and state budget allocations based on the same criteria as the local school district. All state and local funding shall be distributed by the local school district to the charter school monthly beginning July first following approval of the charter school application.
(B) During the year of the charter school's operation, as received, and to the extent allowed by federal law, a sponsor shall distribute to the charter school federal funds which are allocated to the local school district on the basis of the number of special characteristics of the students attending the charter school.
(C) Notwithstanding subsection (B), the proportionate share of state and federal resources generated by students with disabilities or staff serving them shall be directed to charter schools. The proportionate share of funds generated under other federal or state categorical aid programs shall be directed to charter schools serving students eligible for the aid.
(D) All services centrally or otherwise provided by the school district, if any, including, but not limited to, food services, custodial services, maintenance, curriculum, media services, libraries, and warehousing are subject to negotiation between a charter school and the school district.
(E) All awards, grants, or gifts collected by a charter school shall be retained by the charter school.
(F) The governing body of a charter school is authorized to accept gifts, donations, or grants of any kind made to the charter school and to expend or use the gifts, donations, or grants in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the donor. No gifts or donation shall be a requirement for admission. However, no gift, donation, or grant may be accepted by the governing board if subject to any condition contrary to law or contrary to the terms of the contract between the charter school and the governing body.
(G) A charter school shall report to its sponsor and the Department of Education any change to information provided under its application. In addition, a charter school shall report at least annually to its sponsor and the department all information required by the sponsor or the department and including, at a minimum, the number of students enrolled in the charter school, the success of students in achieving the specific educational goals for which the charter school was established, and the identity and certification status of the teaching staff.
(H) The sponsor shall provide technical assistance to persons and groups preparing or revising charter applications at no expense.
(I) Charter schools may acquire by gift, devise, purchase, lease, sublease, installment purchase agreement, land contract, option, or by any other means, and hold and own in its own name buildings or other property for school purposes, and interests in it which are necessary or convenient to fulfill its purposes.
(J) Charter schools are exempt from all state and local taxation, except the sales tax, on their earnings and property. Instruments of conveyance to or from a charter school are exempt from all types of taxation of local or state taxes and transfer fees.
Duties of Department of Education.
(A) The Department of Education shall disseminate information to the public, directly and through sponsors, on how to form and operate a charter school and how to utilize the offerings of a charter school.
(B) At least annually, the department shall provide upon request a directory of all charter schools authorized under this chapter with information concerning the educational goals of each charter school, the success of each charter school in meeting its educational goals, and procedures to apply for admission to each charter school.
(C) The department shall bear the cost of complying with this section.
Duties of State Board of Education.
(A) The State Board of Education shall compile evaluations of charter schools received from local school boards of trustees. They shall review information regarding the regulations and policies from which charter schools were released to determine if the releases assisted or impeded the charter schools in meeting their stated goals and objectives.
(B) The State Board of Education shall review the implementation and effectiveness of this chapter, review comprehensive reports issued by local school boards concerning successes or failures of charter schools, report to the Governor and General Assembly interim results by July 1, 1998, and issue a final report and recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly during the fifth year after the effective date of this chapter.
(C) In preparing the report required by this section, the State Board of Education shall compare the academic performance of charter school pupils with the performance of ethnically and economically comparable groups of pupils in other public schools who are enrolled in academically comparable courses.
Annual listing of buildings suitable for charter school use.
The Department of Education, in conjunction with the Budget and Control Board, shall publish annually a list of vacant and unused buildings and vacant and unused portions of buildings that are owned by this State or by school districts in this State and that may be suitable for the operation of a charter school. The department shall make the list available to applicants for charter schools and to existing charter schools. The list shall include the address of each building, a short description of the building, and the name of the owner of the building. Nothing in this section requires the owner of a building on the list to sell or lease the building or a portion of the building to a charter school or to any other school or to any other prospective buyer or tenant.
Promulgation of regulations.
The State Board of Education shall promulgate regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this chapter.
Liability of governing body, sponsor, board, and employees.
(A) The governing body of a charter school may sue and be sued. The governing body may not levy taxes or issue bonds.
(B) A sponsor is not liable for any of the debts of the charter school.
(C) A sponsor, members of the board of a sponsor, and employees of a sponsor acting in their official capacity are immune from civil or criminal liability with respect to all activities related to a charter school they sponsor. The governing body of a charter school shall obtain at least the amount of and types of insurance required for this purpose.