AP NEWS

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson touts school choice during tour of Horse Creek Academy

January 18, 2017 GMT

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., told students at Horse Creek Academy on Tuesday that he had expected the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump in Washington on Friday to be the highlight of his week, but after touring their school, he had changed his mind.

“What a positive school,” he said. “When you get here, it’s bright and airy, and then you meet the administrators, the educators and the young people attending school here, and it confirms what a bright place this is.”

Wilson met with administrators, faculty, staff and students of the public charter school before addressing the student body in advance of National School Choice Week, which is Jan. 22-28.

School choice gives parents the power to select the best education environment for their children, according to the website SchoolChoiceWeek.com. School choice includes traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning and home schooling.

Wilson said his visit to Horse Creek Academy coincided appropriately with a hearing Tuesday before the U.S. Senate for Betsy DeVos, whom President-elect Trump has nominated to be the new U.S. Secretary of Education.

“Her hallmark has been school choice,” Wilson said.

Wilson said school choice “could be perceived as negative to professional educators, but it is not.”

“It’s meant as a reaffirmation of educators. It’s very positive,” said Wilson, adding that one of his sons benefited from the smaller class size of a private, Christian school. “It is actually a reaffirmation of what I saw today. It all fits together. I see school choice as positive for the young people of our country.”

In addition to school choice, Wilson said he supports more local control of schools.

“Our country was built on competition and also local control of schools,” he said. “I would like to devolve away from the U.S. Department of Education. Locally elected school boards should be running our schools.”

Horse Creek Academy Principal Mark Brown said the school will send four buses filled with students to a school choice rally in Columbia on Jan. 25.

“We’re trying to teach these kids community. That’s our whole purpose,” Brown said. “I explained to Rep. Wilson that our theme is community, involvement, engagement, and we’re hoping that his visit will show them that they can be more proactive.”

Brown added that the hopes the school’s message of involvement will help make parents more proactive, too, as advocates for school choice.

“I hope that we get our word and message out, and with advocacy, especially with the new Secretary of Education (that) President-elect (Donald) Trump has nominated, maybe we’ll get a little bit more funding that would put us on level footing with the other schools.”

Brown said that “level footing” could include public transportation to charter schools. Currently, parents must provide transportation to and from school for their children.

“More kids would have the opportunity to come to our school if we had the transpiration,” Brown said. “If we could get our students to ride a regular school bus to a drop off and then have a bus that would pick up students from Warrenville or Beech Island, we could have a lot more kids who would have school of choice.”

With 475 students, Horse Creek Academy offers grades 4K through eight, but the school’s board is looking to expand athletics and grades next year.

“We’re looking to pull in a few more kids in our middle school, offering baseball and softball next year,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get into the S.C. Independent School Association. If we can do that, we would play Mead Hall, South Aiken Baptist Christian, Augusta Christian – schools that are more competitive with us.”

The board also hopes to add a ninth grade next year and a grade each year after, Brown said.

“We’re looking to expand to a ninth grade for the 2017-18 school year and then a 10th, 11th and 12th grade,” he said. “We hope, in four years, we will have our first graduating class from Horse Creek Academy in 2021.”