Why the State Superintendent of Education Matters

A lot of people think education these days is terrible or, at least, sub par. What constitutes a quality education is highly debatable (Is it test scores? College acceptance? Four-year graduation rates? Something more holisitic?).

The State Superintendent of Education plays an important role in driving policy. But when it comes to the election, it seems this position falls in importance somewhere between getting one’s oil changed in a timely matter and Congress’s desire to lower the debt.

Here are some things you should know.

  1. The State Superintendent is elected by the people, per Article VI, Section 7 of the SC State Constitution.
  2. The State Superintendent serves as the “chief administrative officer of public education”.
  3. Education is closely linked with economic development. From the Times and Democrat’s article on findings from the state Chamber of Commerce:

    Education and workforce preparedness continue to be an area of concern, with a below-average national ranking of 39. South Carolina is held back by its performance in the K-12 performance, while it scores in the top 10 in postsecondary education.

The State Superintendent has the opportunity to influence policy–the kind of policy that can address issues such as “workplace preparedness”.

Wondering just how this is done? Consider some of the work of past Superintendents:

  • Inez Tenenbaum, 1999-2007: Created the South Carolina Reading Initiative
  • Barbara Nielsen, 1991-1999: Worked with the Legislature to create full-day kindergarten, which in turn raised 1st grade readiness scores
  • Charlie Williams, 1979-1991: Began the kindergarten program as well as expanded programs for adult education

Just to name a few.

The passing of No Child Left Behind has altered the way we deal with education (for the worse, in my opinion). To meet certain benchmarks, we need a leader who can implement useful programs that will raise student achievement.

That is why you should care about this race. The person you elect will be a person who will influence education policy in this state. A person who can identify our opportunities and offer realistic solutions.

Of course, the job isn’t all fairies and unicorns. Per the SC Code of Laws, the Superintendent is charged with the following:

  1. Serve as secretary and administrative officer to the State Board of Education.
  2. Have general supervision over and management of all public school funds provided by the State and Federal Governments.
  3. Organize, staff and administer a State Department of Education which shall include such division and departments as are necessary to render the maximum service to public education in the State.
  4. Keep the public informed as to the problems and needs of the public schools by constant contact with all school administrators and teachers, by his personal appearances at public gatherings and by information furnished to the various news media of the State.
  5. Have printed and distributed such bulletins, manuals, and circulars as he may deem necessary for the professional improvement of teachers and for the cultivation of public sentiment for public education, and have printed all forms necessary and proper for the administration of the State Department of Education.
  6. Administer, through the State Department of Education, all policies and procedures adopted by the State Board of Education.
  7. Assume such other responsibilities and perform such other duties as may be prescribed by law or as may be assigned by the State Board of Education.

As you can see, the Superintendent is a very influential person in state education. If nothing else, remember that this person is in charge of public education funds, also known as part of your property tax. Choose a person whose ideas will be the best use of your money.

Links to 2010 Superintendent Candidates:
Gary Burgess – Republican
Frank Holleman – Democrat
Elizabeth Moffly – Republican
Brent Nelsen – Republican
Kelly Payne – Republican
Mick Zais – Republican

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