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Republican’s $125,000 sets early record in SC education race

January 10, 2022 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republican Ellen Weaver is raking in campaign donations as she runs to replace outgoing South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman.

Weaver, a school choice advocate and chair of the Education Oversight Committee, raised more than $125,000 in her first six weeks in the race, according to information provided to The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s official filing.

That’s a record for this 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.

Weaver, 42, has served since 2016 on the committee, a nonpartisan group of political appointees tasked with enacting standards to improve South Carolina’s K-12 education system. She’s the first woman to chair the group.

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For more than a decade, Weaver worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, with whom she founded the Palmetto Promise Institute. Now she’s CEO of the conservative think-tank.

She supports school choice, an umbrella term for education strategies giving parents the option of using public funding to enroll their children in schools, private or public, other than the one to which they are assigned based on where they live.

The Greenville native launched her campaign in November, vowing she’d streamline the state’s education bureaucracy and prioritize financial transparency.

Spearman, who won her first term in 2014, said she wouldn’t run for a third term, desirous instead of devoting more time to her family after 40 years of service as a teacher, lawmaker and education official.

That announcement 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.

The situation at times forced Spearman into sticky situations with her fellow Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, over issues like masking in schools. McMaster said parents should choose. But when cases started spiking before the current school year started, Spearman, backed by state health officials, said schools needed masks to help protect students and teachers.

Another Republican hopeful, Lexington County educator Kizzi Staley Gibson, has reported raising more than $5,000 total over the past two fundraising quarters, according to online records.

Kathy Maness, a Lexington Town Council member and executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, has filed initial campaign paperwork and created a website, which doesn’t mention her party affiliation. Maness currently serves as president of the National League of Cities, an advocacy group for thousands of municipalities.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.