Weaver gets backing from 2 former South Carolina ed chiefs

March 1, 2022 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two former South Carolina education chiefs, one of whom briefly served as the nation’s highest top education official, are endorsing Republican Ellen Weaver to replace outgoing state Superintendent Molly Spearman.

On Tuesday, Weaver’s campaign told The Associated Press that Mick Zais and Barbara Nielsen would be backing the school choice advocate and chair of the Education Oversight Committee.

Zais served as South Carolina’s superintendent from 2011 to 2015, criticizing the Obama administration’s U.S. Education Department and rejecting some federal funds because of what he called the number of strings attached to the money.

Opting not to seek a second term, Zais was tapped by then-President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. He led the agency for several weeks following the resignation of Betsy DeVos, who cited Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot in her departure.


In a statement provided to AP, Zais called Weaver “a proven conservative leader with the intellect, experience, and energy to further empower parents and improve student learning.”

Weaver also won the endorsement of Barbara Nielsen, who was the first Republican to serve as South Carolina’s education chief, a post she held throughout the 1990s.

“I have worked closely with Ellen over the years and know how strongly she is committed to moving South Carolina forward,” Nielsen said, praising Weaver’s “ability to think creatively.”

Spearman’s decision not to seek a third term set in motion a wide-open race for the state’s top education post, an election anticipated to garner copious attention amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic. During the last two years of the outbreak, Spearman was highly visible as she grappled with how best to educate South Carolina’s K-12 students safely.

Weaver is the first woman to chair the Education Oversight Committee, a nonpartisan group of political appointees tasked with enacting standards to improve South Carolina’s K-12 education system.

Earlier this year, Weaver announced that she had raised more than $125,000 in her first six weeks in the race — a record for that stage in an education superintendent race in South Carolina, Luke Byars, a veteran South Carolina GOP strategist consulting Weaver’s campaign, told AP.

Primary elections for the seat will be held in June, with the general election in November.

Another Republican hopeful, Lexington County educator Kizzi Staley Gibson, has reported raising more than $8,000 total, according to online records.

Kathy Maness, a Lexington Town Council member and executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association who is running as a Republican, has raised about $11,000.


Cindy Coats, a member of the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees, is also seeking the GOP nomination.

Former Anderson County School District Four Superintendent Gary Burgess is the sole Democrat in the race thus far. He sought the post in 2014, when he ran as a Republican.

No fundraising filings were available for Coats or Burgess.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at