State schools chief may no longer be in voters’ hands

State schools chief may no longer be in voters’ hands

(S.C.) Next month, South Carolina voters will determine whether or not the governor should be given authority to appoint the state’s school superintendent.

In addition to making the job an appointed position, if voters approve Amendment 1, the State Superintendent of Education would need at least a master’s degree, as well as "substantive and broad-based experience" in public education, or "experience in operational and financial management" in another field.

Currently, the state schools chief in South Carolina is elected. But, despite heading up one of the largest agencies of state government and overseeing about 800,000 students, candidates for position are not required to have a college degree or any background in education.

Gov. Henry McMaster and incumbent superintendent Molly Spearman–a former music teacher and assistant principal–have both expressed support for the amendment. Opponents argue that the current system gives voters a stronger voice in statewide education issues.

“Since the State Superintendent has direct oversight of all the state’s public schools, an elected Superintendent makes her or him directly accountable to voters regarding K-12 education issues,” the South Carolina League of Women Voters said in a statement. “(And) gubernatorial appointment would not guarantee the person chosen would have the knowledge, experience or philosophy to successfully manage school issues.”

On the other hand, the league also acknowledged that the “expense and difficulty of running statewide partisan campaigns may discourage the best candidates from running,” and that an appointed state schools chief would “increase the Governor’s accountability for public education issues.”

South Carolina is currently one of just 13 states that hold elections for the office of superintendent of education. In the remaining 37 states–in which state superintendents are appointed–17 give the power of appointment to the governor, 18 to the state Board of Education, and two to the state college system's Board of Regents.

State superintendents have varied duties in each state. In South Carolina, the state schools chief supervises and manages state and federal public school funds; organizes, staffs and administers the State Department of Education; and serves as secretary and administrative officer to the State Board of Education, among other duties.

Proponents of making the position appointed content that it’s the best way to ensure the most qualified applicants are considered, instead of just those whose names end up on the ballot.

For instance, Israel Romero–the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of education up until last week–has been ruled ineligible for election because of a felony conviction for the unauthorized practice of law.

Although he withdrew from the race a day after reports of his conviction were circulated, his name remains on the ballot.

Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma and Wyoming are among the other states holding elections for the position this year. And in California, where the state superintendent actually has very little direct authority over the state education system, a record tens of millions have been spent on both candidates’ campaigns, making it the most expensive superintendent’s race in state history.

The South Carolina measure, if approved by voters, would take effect on January 1, 2023.

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