Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child spend about 1,000 hours in next year? Let’s dive in to School Choice in South Carolina.
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 learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Interested in learning more about South Carolina’s new scholarship program? Check out our deep dive blog on South Carolina’s Education Savings Account (ESA)!
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
South Carolina Traditional Public Schools
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 $12,496 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 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. As an example, Richland County School District One generally requires students to attend their zoned public school, but does allow for transfers in some cases, such as unique program offerings, childcare needs, and instances of hardship. In most cases, parents are in charge of transportation if they choose open enrollment in South Carolina.
Open enrollment is an important way that parents can access more public school choices. You can learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”
In 2023, South Carolina passed a law to make public school enrollment easier for military families, asking school districts to provide more flexibility to families when it comes to residency documents. Find out more about public schools in your state at the South Carolina Department of Education.
South Carolina Charter Schools
South Carolina families can choose from more than 80 charter schools, including several virtual 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 have 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. At one South Carolina charter school we talked to, a guidance counselor even founded a Boys’ Leadership Academy program to encourage students to give back to the community.
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. Charter school enrollment has been on the rise in South Carolina the last five years. At least four new charter schools opened in fall 2023, with 13 more approved to open.
You can learn more about your state’s charter options at the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina.
South Carolina Magnet Schools
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] 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 many 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. Meanwhile, Georgetown County School District is in the process of transforming five schools into magnet schools. A full directory of magnet schools and programs in the state can be found at the South Carolina Department of Education.
South Carolina Private Schools
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. Additionally, the state offers a refundable educational credit program where parents may receive a tax credit for learning expenses for special needs students.
Also, starting in 2024, low-income families will be able to apply to receive up to $6,000 of flexible education funding for private school tuition and other approved expenses through a new scholarship program. You can learn if you are eligible to apply in our full explainer.
South Carolina Online Learning
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. For 2023-2024, a new virtual school is opening: Heron Virtual Academy of South Carolina, which will specialize in serving high-risk highschoolers and students with special learning needs.
In addition, public, private, and homeschooled students in grades 6-12 in South Carolina can enroll in tuition-free online classes through the state virtual school, Virtual SC. VirtualSC recommends taking a maximum of four classes at a time, and families should work with their school to arrange their schedule and sign up. Some schools partner with VirtualSC to offer a blended learning experience via Virtual Learning Labs where students take online courses in a lab setting with a course facilitator.
Also, some South Carolina districts offer their own online programming. Examples of this include Pickens County Virtual Academy, Greenville Public Schools’ Virtual Program, and Horry County School Virtual.
To read more about online learning in South Carolina, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
South Carolina Homeschooling
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 statute, 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.
The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (like reading, math, and science) and also requires annual standardized tests for students using the homeschool statute. If your child is an athlete, note that homeschooled students in South Carolina may still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at local public schools.
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).
South Carolina Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many South Carolina families are blending school options to come up with creative ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners.
Here are real examples of microschools and related resources in your state:
- In Charleston, Classeteria is a growing learning where homeschoolers come together for enrichment classes and hands-on projects.
- Ignite Learning Center in Greenville offers a two-day class model supporting homeschoolers, un-schoolers, and other families looking for non-traditional education.
- Hart Academy is a cottage school in Charleston founded by a former public school teacher inspired by the idea of hybrid homeschooling.
- Peace of Mind microschool in Columbia offers individualized, small group work that blends online learning and hands-on lessons.
- Once it launches in 2024, South Carolina’s new Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program will make private school, tutoring, and other personalized learning expenses a more affordable choice for economically disadvantaged children.
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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South Carolina Parents
For additional information about school choices in South Carolina, visit these resources: