Amendment 1 would allow S.C. voters to decide how state superintendent of ed is chosen

November 4, 2018

South Carolina voters can change the way the state’s superintendent of education is chosen or keep it the same in Tuesday’s general election.

A “yes” vote for Amendment 1 on the ballot would change the State Constitution, making the office of state superintendent of education a governor-appointed position, rather than an elected position as it is now.

A “no” vote would oppose the constitutional amendment, keeping the position of state superintendent of education an elected position.

S.C. State Superintendent Molly Spearman, former Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum and S.C. Chamber of Commerce President Ted Pitts support Amendment 1 and outlined their reasons Wednesday during a conference call with reporters from around the state.

Pitts said adding the state superintendent of education to the governor’s cabinet and making education a priority are “a must” from the business community’s perspective.

“The business community would tell you right now that nothing is more important than K-12 education,” Pitts said. “It is that workforce pipeline that employers look to to prepare South Carolinians to do the jobs they have. Right now, we have divided leadership when it comes to education, and ultimately the governor, in the current form, is not accountable.”

Tenenbaum said she supports Amendment 1 because the politics of campaigning for the office of state superintendent discourage qualified candidates from running.

“There were a number of highly qualified career educators who would be excellent state superintendents, but they did not want to subject themselves to the rough and tumble of the political world, nor did they know how to access it,” said Tenenbaum, saying she strongly supported making the office an appointed position during her eight years are state superintendent.

Campaigning also took time away from the job, Tenenbaum said.

“I realized how much time I had to take to go to my campaign office, raise funds, appear at campaign rallies,” she said. “It took time away from my work as state superintendent, valuable time that I would rather have been working on education policy and visiting the schools.

“Having served with superintendents who were elected and those who were appointed, I saw that the people who were appointed really got to focus 100 percent on their task and their mission of being the chief state educator.”

Spearman said she supports the amendment because it allows the governor and the state superintendent to share a common vision and also hold the governor accountable.

“While the governor talks some about education, this change would ensure that education would have to be on the governor’s platform and that the governor would be held accountable,” she said. “You could have a superintendent with a different vision than the governor. Then, nothing happens.”

Spearman said the amendment also would establish qualifications to hold the position of state superintendent. Currently, a candidate must be 18 and a registered voter to run.

“We’ve had candidates before who had not completed high school or maybe had a GED but no college credits at all,” she said. “That’s just absurd to be the possible leader of the public education system in the state, representing teachers and working with the General Assembly.”

The amendment would require the state superintendent to have extensive education or business experience and at least a master’s degree.

“You really need all of those because running this agency of over 1,000 people takes a lot of energy and expertise,” Spearman said. “I think we would be better served by knowing that those qualifications are there.”

Levi Green, the chairman of the Aiken County School Board, said the board as a whole did not take a position on the amendment. Instead, individual board members voiced their support or opposition when asked for their opinions by the S.C. State School Boards Association.

Green said, in his personal opinion, he would rather the position of state superintendent be made nonpartisan.

“If the superintendent became a nonpartisan position, then I would still rather give the voters an opportunity to elect the superintendent,” he said.

If Amendment 1 passes Tuesday, the governor would appoint the state superintendent of education with the consent of the state Senate.

Spearman said requiring the Senate’s consent would provide a “safety net” to ensure the appointed state superintendent is qualified.

“The governor makes the appointment, but the person would have to be reviewed by the State Senate, which would give a bipartisan safety net that would ensure the person is qualified an be a good leader for the state,” she said.

The S.C. State Legislature would be responsible for prescribing the office’s duties, compensation and required qualifications.

The amendment would take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

South Carolina is one of 13 states, including neighboring Georgia and North Carolina, that elect the state superintendent of education. The other 37 appoint the position.

The League of Women’s Voters of the Charleston Area outlined arguments supporting and opposing Amendment 1 on its website, lwvcharleston.org. Some of its opposing arguments are as follows:

• Since the state superintendent has direct oversight of all the state’s public schools, an elected superintendent makes her/him directly accountable to voters regarding K-12 education issues.

• Since the largest portion of the state budget goes to education, as well as millions of dollars in federal grant money, an elected state superintendent can devote full attention to education issues without the distraction or competition of other state funding issues.

• Gubernatorial appointment would not guarantee the person chosen would have the knowledge, experience or philosophy to successfully manage school issues.

• Special interest lobbying could influence gubernatorial appointment of a superintendent.

• As education becomes more complex and specialized, statewide campaigns require candidates to travel throughout the state, giving voters the opportunity to meet and evaluate the candidates.

The wording for the vote on Amendment 1 reads as follows:

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.

Putting the amendment on the ballot required a majority of votes in the State House and Senate.