Proposed bill seeks to eliminate loophole that allows students to cross county lines to attend schools
(NOTE: Since this article went to print, The Daniel Island News received information from Charleston County School District pertaining to the number of students attending School of the Arts and Academic Magnet High School from Berkeley County. That data, as well as a disclosure regarding the paper’s editor’s connection to this story, have been added below.)
“Watching your child’s confidence soar by being accepted into a nationally ranked school of their choice is a tremendous benefit,” she said. “They are given a lot of responsibility along with a lot of respect among teachers and peers, which is unique.”
Academic Magnet is located in Charleston County, but the Jones family resides in Berkeley County. While there are legal statutes in place that prohibit students from attending schools outside of their home districts, Jones and others on Daniel Island and the Cainhoy peninsula have utilized a loophole in the law that permits parents to send their children across county lines by way of property ownership. But South Carolina lawmaker Marvin Pendarvis is proposing a bill that could change that.
Section 59-63-30 of the South Carolina Code of Law states that a student can attend a school in any district if the child owns real estate in the specific school’s district, providing that the property’s taxable assessed value is $300 or more. Some families have purchased small properties or lots within the school district’s boundaries and put them in their child’s name.
The loophole has been used by a number of Lowcountry families, many from Daniel Island, to send their kids to well-known public schools, like School of the Arts and Academic Magnet. To attend either school (both have a limited number of spots available), students must meet rigorous requirements for admission. According to the Charleston County School District, 10 students from Berkeley County attend School of the Arts. SOA has 1,109 students across grades 6 through 12. Academic Magnet has a total of 653 students across grades 9 through 12, with 33 of those students residing in Berkeley County.
As Rep. Pendarvis explained, this influx of outside students can decrease entry rates for Charleston County residents, particularly low-income families.
“The issue they were having is when you did that, it was impacting the ability for students within the district who wanted to compete in order to gain access to some of the choice magnet schools,” he explained. “They were not only competing against other people in the district, but people who have used this provision against property lines.”
“It’s a provision that has a very tortured history,” Pendarvis continued. “If you look into the history behind it, it was used really to further allow Charleston County to resist against the integration of schools back in the ‘60s. It’s an antiquated provision, one that I don’t think is necessary now. I believe our school choice laws adequately allow parents to send their children wherever they need to, if they don’t feel like a certain school is providing them access.”
If successful, the bill will allow county line-crossing students to stay at their respective institutions, if they have already been enrolled prior to the 2019-2020 school year. Jones said that Academic Magnet has been such an integral aspect of her children’s education that she would consider moving to Charleston County, if it meant keeping them enrolled in the popular institution that was once ranked in the top ten in the nation.
“That’s what some families do, because anyone can apply,” she added.
In 2016, the Charleston County School District began charging tuition to out of district students utilizing the SC 59-63-30 statute. The fee is based on yearly per student costs, less property taxes assessed. The amount is typically close to $6000 per year. There are other financial implications for families with children attending school outside their districts. Primary residences are taxed at four percent and do not include school operations taxes (they were swapped with an increase in sales taxes as part of Act 388). Non-owner occupied properties and commercial properties are taxed at six percent and do include school operations taxes. So any students attending schools outside of their district under SC 59-63-30 are paying school operations taxes in that county based on owning property there.
Jones doesn’t mind paying more for the opportunity for her children to attend AMHS, but she would like to see resources and attention go towards taking the “very successful model of SOA and AMHS and both duplicating it in neighboring counties as well as growing the campuses within CCSD.”
“BCSD parents who find the academic rigor and/or creative curriculum available at these schools are best suited for their children don’t have any in-county comparable options, so we have used the legal loopholes legislators set up to enroll our children at these amazing schools,” she stated. “CCSD students suffer because the enrollment is limited, but what if we took our resources and duplicated or tripled the enrollment? We would all benefit.”
Daniel Island resident Erin O, who has two teens attending Academic Magnet, said that the magnet school should open their doors to all South Carolina students.
“The requirements to get into Magnet should be tougher, and include any child in S.C. that can meet them,” stated O. “A child who is accepted there should be capable of succeeding there with good grades. Otherwise, it is a disservice to the child. A child who could be making much better grades at another school, should be at another school. Otherwise, it makes the college search very disappointing, when it could have been much more full of opportunity. We have witnessed this first hand. I think it would solve a lot of problems if it were actually difficult to find enough kids in one particular county to meet the criteria, naturally expanding the search into the Tri-county area.”
Representative Nancy Mace disagrees with the Pendarivs bill, believing that it is ill-advised.
“I like Representative Pendarvis,” she said. “We work well together. He’s very smart, he’s energetic, but his legislation is very misguided. We shouldn’t force parents and students to go to schools that they don’t want to.”
Mace added that, although Berkeley County has “great public schools,” the legislation would limit school choice.
Pendarvis stated that he considers himself a supporter of school choice, and that this bill is not about that issue. “I’m a proponent of high quality education for everybody in South Carolina,” he said. “I recognize that for some, that’s the ability to send their children to whatever school they need to, but I also recognize that there are large segments of the population in South Carolina that are unable to adequately send their children across the state to whatever school. And they rely on the traditional public school model in order to educate their children.”
Daniel Island News editor, Elizabeth Bush, who resides on Daniel Island, had two children attend and graduate from Academic Magnet High School.