The Sumter Branch NAACP has received several inquiries from NAACP members, community leaders and organizations regarding the new Liberty STEAM Charter School and its approval to operate in Sumter County beginning in the 2021 school year. The community has raised questions about the funding of the new school and its effect on the Sumter School District.
As a matter of principle, the NAACP does not oppose charter schools but continues to find many of the practices of charter schools troubling. That is why the NAACP has called for a moratorium on charter school expansion and supports strengthening charter school oversight and practice. Several presidential candidates, 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and 1.7 million American Federation of Teachers members have likewise taken the same position.
The NAACP wants to eradicate the failures of charter schools because the future of our children lies at stake, particularly Black children and especially Black males. Charter schools use public funds but operate outside the confines of many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. The Liberty STEAM Charter School would fall into that category, and leaders estimate a student population of 144 students in the first year. Although the first year would only include kindergarten and first-grade students, the plan includes building out to pre-K through 12 by adding a grade each year.
Based on the South Carolina education per-pupil funding formula, the Sumter School District would not be eligible for more than $518,000, which would be re-directed to Liberty STEAM Charter School in its first year of operation. The school expects to end up with a total school population of 976 students pre-K through 12th grade. Built out to 976 students would equate to $3,513,600 annually of taxpayer dollars directed to the school.
The NAACP opposes privatization of public schools and public subsidizing or funding of for-profit and charter schools. The NAACP has historically been in strong support of public education, and we denounce any movement toward privatization that diverts public funds to support non-public school choices.
Licensing and approval applications to start a new charter school in South Carolina may be made to:
1. The local school district in which the proposed school is located (preferable);
2. The South Carolina Public Charter School District; or
3. A public or independent institution of higher learning that is registered as a sponsor with the South Carolina Department of Education.
The Liberty STEAM Charter School was approved during a meeting with the South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD) on April 16, 2020. The school chose for some reason not to process its licensing and approval application locally through the Sumter School District.
The NAACP is concerned about this because the one way that school districts can maintain accountability for charter schools is through their regulation of the organizations that authorize charter schools. To do this, the South Carolina General Assembly should only allow school districts to serve as authorizers and empower the school districts to reject applications that do not meet standards and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.
The South Carolina General Assembly and more locally and importantly members of the Sumter legislative delegation have a responsibility to review the charter school legislation and address the serious shortcomings in funding of public charter schools, accountability and the licensing and approval process for public charter schools.
The Sumter Branch NAACP will be meeting with our local legislative delegation about this issue and plan to report back to you our findings. Additionally and simultaneously, our community-driven investigation will include a series of questions and examination of the Liberty STEAM Charter School and the effect on the Sumter School District.
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