All of South Carolina’s roughly 760,000 public school students will be wearing school uniforms to school starting next school year if one state lawmaker’s bill becomes law.
House legislators will consider the proposal Tuesday.
State Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Williamsburg, filed a proposal in 2016 that would make all S.C. public school students wear a uniform to school. The policy, to be enforced by the S.C. Department of Education, would exclude physical education and extracurricular activities.
However, McKnight’s proposal stalled in committee last year.
“It would be good for South Carolina,” McKnight said.
School districts already can decide whether students should wear uniforms. Some schools do require uniforms and enforce the policy.
McKnight said his proposal would save parents’ money, particularly those parents who can’t afford to buy their children new clothes. Public school students who qualify for free or reduced meals — an indication of poverty — would get at least five sets of school uniforms, contingent on money from the state or the school district, according to McKnight’s proposal.
“Instead of the clothing you normally buy your kids – the $300 sneakers and God knows what else for clothes – you buy five khakis, five golf shirts and preselected shoes by the school district. All under $100,” McKnight said. “It’s savings.”
However, the proposal still could be a hard sell for lawmakers.
Poor school districts likely would have to rely on the state for money to cover the cost of school uniforms. But state money is scarce. Since the Great Recession, the Legislature has struggled to cover the cost of other needs required by state law.
McKnight says his proposal is all about figuring out what can make S.C. schools better. “If uniforms are going to be it, then fine. If not, then we tried. I don’t see anyone else offering up any other ideas to improve education in South Carolina.”
The state Education Department has not taken a position on the proposal, said agency spokesman Ryan Brown.
Blythewood High School senior Will Galloway, 17, is not sold on the idea.
Galloway, chairman of the S.C. Federation of Teenage Republicans, said he is not convinced that uniforms would cut back on students wearing expensive or flashy clothes.
“A uniform policy is not going to get rid of that. It just might, maybe, change the way it is expressed.”