As I noted in last month’s column, among my priorities for the upcoming session of the General Assembly is to help push forward legislation that will put a constitutional amendment on our South Carolina ballot in 2022 so that voters can take another look at whether our superintendent of education should be appointed by our governor, or directly elected.
There are strong feelings among today’s state legislators that the governor of our state should have more responsibility and accountability for strengthening South Carolina’s less than adequate public education system. And, we believe the best way to achieve this goal is to provide the governor more direct authority in the process – which he doesn’t have now.
Of course, this is not a new idea. In the 2018 statewide election, a question was put on the ballot to give the governor appointment authority for the superintendent of education, but voters rejected it. I am thinking that back then advocates for the change didn’t effectively make their case, so this time around we are going to need to do better.
Already we have started the process in the House Judiciary Committee with a vote to put the question on the floor of the House for a full vote when the legislature reconvenes in January. Bluffton’s state representative Weston Newton, who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee, was a leader in that effort.
South Carolina is one of only 12 states in the U.S. that elects its schools superintendent rather than having them appointed. And, remarkably, there are no requirements or qualifications for anyone who decides to run for the position except for those regarding age or conviction of a felony.
However, if the constitutional amendment is passed in the General Assembly, and then by voters in 2022, the governor will be able to appoint the next superintendent of education in 2026 – providing he or she meets a set of qualifications that lawmakers have approved.
I firmly believe this is a very important government reform initiative that should bring more accountability to our public school system.
Previous South Carolina governors, including Nikki Haley, agree this is the right step to take. Previous state superintendents of education do as well. These include both Republican superintendent Barbara Nielsen of Bluffton and Democrat superintendent Inez Tenenbaum. In fact, our current superintendent, Molly Spearman, is a very strong proponent. She has stated that having a governor and a schools superintendent with a common vision and voice would be more effective in elevating education issues and pushing through the necessary reforms across the entire state.
Moreover, I believe it would be a step that will better align our statewide education and workforce policies under one executive who can be accountable for both. Education and workforce capability have consistently shown themselves as two of the most important factors impacting our South Carolina economy.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.