On November 6, South Carolina voters will be asked to vote on one of the most important ballot initiatives they may have never heard of: whether or not to appoint or elect South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education.
A “good government” reform that has been discussed since the days of Governor Carroll Campbell, Amendment 1 on this year’s ballot could determine not just the course of South Carolina public education – but the fate of other key reform measures – for decades to come.
What would Amendment 1 do? According to the South Carolina Election Commission:
- A “Yes” vote would require the Superintendent of Education to be appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate.
- A “No” vote would maintain the current method of electing a Superintendent of Education.
Why is our Superintendent of Education elected?
It dates back to “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman’s 1895 Constitution that diffused the executive branch’s authority, primarily out of fear that an African-American might become Governor. This led to much power being given not only to the Legislature, but to other elected, executive branch officials who in theory could check the Governor’s power.
We have made progress over the last decade in reforming this antiquated – not to mention ineffective – form of government. In 2014 the state’s voters passed Amendment 2, which ended the bizarre spectacle of South Carolina having the only elected military official in the free world. Then, in 2016, voters approved the Governor and Lt. Governor running as a joint ticket, to match the system seen in most states.
But voters passed even these seemingly commonsense measures by narrow margins. Which brings us back to Amendment 1…and three key reasons why it matters:
Who is ultimately responsible for the plight of K-12 education outcomes in South Carolina (not to mention nearly one quarter of the state’s annual general fund budget)?
The State Superintendent? The Governor? The General Assembly? The State Board of Education? The Education Oversight Committee? Local school boards? Local district leadership? The list goes on…as does the endless circle of finger-pointing.
As it turns out, when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. And sadly, it’s South Carolina students, teachers, taxpayers and businesses who pay the price.
One reason why it’s so hard to change broken education systems? A lot of power and money is wrapped up in maintaining the status quo. It’s no coincidence that the president of the SC Education Association (SCEA), an affiliate of the far-left National Education Association (NEA), recently told the Post & Courier that she fears “a loss of democracy if voters — and educators — get cut out of a direct election.”
However, Senator Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield) presents a different view: “As a history teacher, the most frustrating thing to me was that everyone running for governor was pro-public education, and then when they became governor, there was no way as a teacher to hold them responsible, because their response was, ‘I can’t do anything about that.’”
Our “yes” vote on Amendment 1 is a vote to begin to streamline South Carolina’s unaccountable structure of education governance. This will make education decisions MORE accountable to voters, not less. The buck should stop with our Governor.
Our current state Superintendent of Education vocally supports Amendment 1.
Why? For one thing, she has observed that the political nature of the current “job interview” process discourages qualified people from applying. How many people can take a year off their job, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and endure the grueling experience of a statewide campaign?
Opponents of Amendment 1 also like to say that we just can’t trust a politician (in this case, the Governor) to do the right thing for schools. But by that logic, why would you vote “no” and guarantee that the Superintendent remains a politician too?
In a recent interview with The State, our Superintendent also shared: “When I decided to run, I checked the Constitution to make sure I was qualified, and it turns out everybody is. [But] it requires a lot of skills and experience to run one of the largest agencies of state government and oversee 800,000 students.”
And while her resume as an educator certainly speaks to her qualifications for the role, this year the General Assembly successfully passed S.27, a law that would require any future appointed Superintendents to have at least a master’s degree and “substantive and broad-based experience” in either public education or operational and financial management in any field (think finance, economics, accounting, law or business).
Our “yes” vote on Amendment is a vote to make the key question of the Superintendent’s “job interview” what they know about education and fixing broken, complicated systems…not how good a politician they are or how much money they can raise.
Governors are important ambassadors for our state, working to recruit new businesses and address the needs of existing job-creators. Talk to almost any South Carolina business owner today and they’ll share their challenge to find qualified folks to fill jobs in their company.
While education is about more than just finding a job, let’s be clear: it’s also largely about finding a job. Connecting the dots between open jobs, education needs and economic development challenges is a role the Governor is uniquely qualified to fill.
Our “yes” vote on Amendment 1 is a vote to more fully integrate effective education policy into the larger conversations driving economic development in our state.
It’s time for South Carolina voters to face the facts: our diffuse system of education accountability just isn’t working for far too many of our children. It will take a bold education leader – backed by a courageous Governor – to make the decisions necessary to face down our education challenges.
The Governor must articulate a unifying vision for our state. And when they are elected, they should have the ability to implement the vision that voters endorsed.
A Superintendent of Education appointed by the Governor – and approved by the Senate – will provide clear responsibility, essential experience and better collaboration in our journey to give every student in our state the opportunity to reach their full potential.
That’s why we’re voting “yes” on Amendment 1.