Charter schools have an unfair advantage

York Preparatory Academy High School held is graduation ceremony for Class of 2017 on Friday.
York Preparatory Academy High School held is graduation ceremony for Class of 2017 on Friday. Special to The Herald

Charter schools are designed to be different from traditional public schools. Nonetheless, they exist only because they are supported by taxpayer dollars.

In light of that, it is unfair that charters are permitted to skirt the rules when it comes to recruiting student-athletes.

As outlined in a Tuesday story by Bret McCormick in The Herald’s Sports section, charter schools, such as Rock Hill’s York Preparatory Academy, are not bound by the rules of the South Carolina High School League or the South Carolina Independent School Association regarding sports programs. The state’s charter schools, while publicly funded, are under the aegis of the separate S.C. Public Charter School District with its own board of trustees.

Public schools are prohibited by the SCHSL from scouting or recruiting student-athletes from other schools in the district. In addition, the Rock Hill school district has instituted additional restrictions to prevent coaches from actively trying to persuade talented athletes at other schools to transfer. Rules approved in January force student-athletes transferring within the district to sit out a year of sports participation.

But none of those rules apply to York Prep. And some of the coaches at York County’s public schools are openly critical of efforts by YPA to attract athletes to the charter school.

Local coaches are upset that YPA basketball coach Frank Hamrick scouts public school athletes and tries to recruit them for his program. While Hamrick is acting within the rules, other coaches complain that the practice is unfair.

We think they have a point.

We realize that the old “be true to your school” model for high school sports is fast eroding. Student-athletes now feel the need to focus on things such as media exposure, enhancing chances for college scholarships by playing for top teams and eventually moving into the professional ranks.

Charter schools, which initially focused primarily on academics and appealing to a particular student demographic, find it harder to provide those opportunities or to attract large numbers of top athletes. And, to be fair, no one is complaining that YPA is poaching other schools’ top debaters.

Nonetheless, if charter schools function primarily as public schools with a slightly different curriculum, it seems unfair to give them such wide latitude in recruiting athletes from other public schools. Why shouldn’t they all abide by the same rules?

While charter schools might be somewhat limited in attracting top athletes, their athletic programs are no different from those at many private schools and smaller public schools that also have to draw from a limited pool of students. Schools can’t necessarily offer every advantage to every student.

Students who attend charter schools should have a chance to participate in athletics and compete for college scholarships. But we think South Carolina’s policy of allowing charters to actively recruit top athletes who have been groomed by coaches at public schools is unfair.

Charters should have to abide by the same recruiting restrictions as other public schools.