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SC lawmakers looking to change how charter, private schools compete athletically against public schools

On Monday, a panel of state lawmakers discussed a set of proposals aimed at leveling the playing field between charter and traditional public schools

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina lawmakers are examining potential changes to the way charter and private high schools participate in athletic competitions against public schools. 

This comes after a series of game forfeitures by several Columbia-area schools when competing against Gray Collegiate Academy.

On Monday, a panel of state lawmakers convened to discuss a set of legislative proposals with the aim of leveling the playing field between charter and traditional public schools.

Rep. Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort County) told reporters the issue has become a priority for her constituents.

"When we have problems of schools fighting amongst each other and our children being pushed out of the sport they love to play, something’s wrong,” said Erickson. 

The concerns driving these discussions revolve around charter schools potentially targeting athletes, which could provide them with a significant competitive advantage over smaller high schools in the state that may not have comparable resources.

The proposed bills encompass a range of measures, including limiting charter schools' involvement in postseason play, elevating charter schools to higher athletics classifications, and placing athletic oversight under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. 

"I also think there’s gotta be an accountability process, and when we put them under an agency, we require that certain things be measured, and certain things get looked at, and it doesn’t stay in a vacuum,” said Erickson. 

Other states like Indiana have implemented Multiplier systems, which allow for dominant schools at lower levels to “move up” in classification based on athletic performance.

Dr. Jerome Singleton, the Commissioner of the South Carolina High School League, testified that a temporary law renewed annually in the state budget would currently prevent these bills from enacting any changes. 

"The proviso says all schools need to be treated the exact same. That kind of puts us in a bind because to be able to create the level playing field we need to have the authority to address them as we see fit,” said Singleton. 

This year alone, only three out of 16 South Carolina High School League fall and winter sports team championships in classes 1A and 2A were won by public schools.

Out of the 219 schools in the S.C. High School League, 15 are charter schools and four are private schools.

Right now, the league addresses competitiveness through realignment which happens every two years. It moves schools up or down in classification based on enrollment changes. 

Kevin Mason, the Executive Director of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, agrees that change is needed but is uncertain about what that change should entail.

"Not all charter schools are the same, and so not all charter schools have high-performing athletic programs or have a student body that mirrors Gray or Oceanside or those schools with those types of programs,” said Mason. 

The committee overseeing these deliberations is open to public testimony at their upcoming meeting, scheduled for September 20th. However, no legislation can be considered until lawmakers return in January.

Last month, the South Carolina High School League Executive Committee voted in favor of allowing any team facing a region-game forfeiture in any sport to replace it with another opponent, provided one is available, without incurring any penalties.

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