Leaders of South Carolina’s business community joined state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey on a statewide tour to encourage voters to approve Amendment 1 next month.
The proposed amendment would change the education superintendent to be an appointed position. Currently, it is elected every four years. If voters agree, the state constitution would be changed so that the job becomes appointed by the governor with the Senate’s approval.
Must Section 7, Article VI of the Constitution of this State, relating to state constitutional officers, be amended so as to provide that beginning in January 2023, or upon a vacancy in the office of Superintendent of Education after the date of the ratification of the provisions of this paragraph, whichever occurs first, the Superintendent of Education must be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate; to provide that the appointed Superintendent of Education shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor; and to require the General Assembly to provide by law for the duties, compensation, and qualifications for the office?
A ‘Yes’ vote will require the Superintendent of Education be appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate.
A ‘No’ vote maintains the current method of electing a Superintendent of Education.
Massey (R-Edgefield) said he worries most voters do not pay close attention to the superintendent’s race. “This race is so far down the ballot that voters and the press, quite frankly, don’t give it nearly the scrutiny it deserves,” he said.
Spearman, the Republican incumbent, supports the potential change. “I think it would guarantee a common vision, more working together, a seat at the table in the Governor’s cabinet which I do not have at this time,” she said during an event at the Department of Education’s headquarters in Columbia.
If approved, the governor could begin appointing a superintendent after 2022, but could pick a replacement if the position becomes vacant after next year.The new law would also create more professional or degree qualifications for the job. Potential candidates, many of whom work full-time, would no longer have to take personal time to campaign for the position.
“Nor will they go through the politics of running for this office,” Spearman said. “Currently there are no qualifications required for this job. Minimal qualification is being a registered voter and 18 years of age.”
South Carolina is one of 12 states in which the superintendent of education is elected. Massey said he believes it is time to update the way government is run.
“The current system is working exactly the way that Ben Tillman designed it,” he said, referring to the post-Reconstruction Democrat governor who served from 1890-1894. “This is Ben Tillman’s Constitution. He intended for there to be conflict at the top. He intended to preserve the status quo. That is exactly what the current system does because you can’t have a unified leadership front.”
Reform efforts have tried for decades to give the Governor’s Office more say in educational policy. The proposal was approved by the House and Senate this year after Republicans who wanted a more unified executive branch reached a compromise with Democrats who wanted the qualifications in place to avoid political cronyism.
“There was a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives to get this done,” Massey said. “People across the aisle see the need for this. The need to have the qualifications for the superintendent, like Superintendent Spearman mentioned, and also the need to have that common vision so voters know who to hold accountable.”
“The CEO model works where the CEO is the person that is ultimately responsible for the organization,” SC Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ted Pitts said. “The future workforce of South Carolina comes through our public education system and there’s really nothing more important to the business community than public education in South Carolina as you develop South Carolinians for their career and become productive taxpaying citizens.”
Chamber of Commerce Chair and Nephron Pharmaceuticals CEO Lou Kennedy said her mother taught first grade in South Carolina public schools for 40 years.
“I am keenly aware of what goes in on the teachers’ lives and what goes on in our education system,” she said. “There is no better rule for governance than accountability.”