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Last Upated: October 7, 2021
Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child will spend about 1,000 hours in next year?
Making that decision with confidence starts with knowing what options you have; you may have more school choices than you realize! Understanding these options can help you find a school where your child grows and learns to the best of their ability. South Carolina families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in South Carolina at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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Most South Carolina families choose traditional public schools, which are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, South Carolina spends $11,140 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
In South Carolina, the state allows each district decides to set its own open enrollment policies. “Open enrollment” refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. South Carolina parents wanting to transfer their child to a different public school than the one they are assigned should contact their local school district to see if this is an option. Open enrollment is an important way that parents can access more public school choices.
Find out more about public schools in your state here: South Carolina’s Department of Education.
South Carolina families can choose from more than 75 charter schools. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and typically have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they are have extra freedom to innovate with learning methods and are accountable to authorizing bodies for results.
Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. That might be providing a Spanish immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) is usually used to determine admittance.
South Carolina first passed charter school legislation in 1996. You can learn more about charter options at Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina.
You can also choose from magnet schools! Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts.
Dr. Michael Lofton, founder of South Carolina’s Spring Hill High School, gave us this example of how a magnet school works: “As a class works through a math unit, a teacher at [a magnet school]l will embed a project-based learning activity that relates to that class of students’ interests. That helps to hook the students into the math component. We find that by doing this, the kids study it deeper. No matter where they go to school, they’re going to take Algebra 2 before they graduate. Our program just has more project-based learning experiences that the kids get while they’re learning their curriculum. They really tend to delve a little bit deeper into study if they enjoy it more and it’s something that they want to relate to.”
South Carolina has more than thirty magnet choices throughout the state, and these might be a good option if your child learns best by focusing in on a subject they are passionate about. For instance, districts with magnet choices include Fairfield County School District, Florence County School District Three, Lexington-Richland School District Five, Richland County School District One, and Richland School District Two.
Families in South Carolina can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. South Carolina’s private schools come in all shapes and forms.
In South Carolina, if your child has a disability and you believe the assigned public school does not meet his or her needs, you can apply to the Exceptional Needs Children Fund and may be able to receive a scholarship toward private school. Additional funding may be available from other sources.
Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. South Carolina offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like South Carolina Virtual Charter School, South Carolina Connections Academy. SC Whitmore School, the South Carolina Preparatory Academy, Odyssey Online Learning, and Cyber Academy of South Carolina. In addition, public, private, and homeschooled students in grades 7-12 in South Carolina can enroll in tuition-free online classes through Virtual SC. VirtualSC recommends taking a maximum of four classes at a time, and does not award diplomas.
South Carolina Connections Academy, South Carolina Virtual Charter School, Odyssey Online High School, and SC Whitmore School have rolling enrollment policies.
As of September 2021, South Carolina virtual Charter School has seats available in grades K-12. At South Carolina Connections Academy, enrollment is limited to 6,500 students, and the cap has been met for grades K, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Limited space is available in grades 6-11. At Odyssey Online Learning, students who apply beyond late September will likely be on a waitlist for the second semester.
South Carolina Connections Academy does not supply families with free technology, but internet subsidies may be available in the case of hardship. South Carolina Virtual Charter School and SC Whitmore School do not provide technology and wifi in most cases.
South Carolina families can also choose to homeschool, which allows for high levels of customized learning and flexibility. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states.
In South Carolina, if you are homeschooling under a homeschool statue, an application must be submitted to the board of trustees prior to starting. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, assessment of grade placement will vary by school district so contact your local school to find out their process.
You can learn more at the South Carolina Department of Education’s Homeschooling page, Home School Legal Defense Association – South Carolina, the South Carolina Home Educators Association, the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools, Hometown Homeschool Association of South Carolina, and the Grow & Learn on Weekdays (GLOW).
Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it. Learn more about learning pods.
If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in South Carolina. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschooled students in South Carolina may still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at local public schools.
If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what South Carolina classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
If your child is going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including multiple permanent, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide.
The South Carolina Department of Social Services has announced that learning support pods in which an adult is caring for children for more than one unrelated family should apply for a family child care home license.
For additional information about school choice in South Carolina, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2022 will take place January 23 – 29, 2022. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information!
South Carolina celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 720 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in South Carolina.
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