Education Leader Race offers qualifying questions in SC | New Policies

By JAMES POLLARD, Associated Press/Report for America

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A CEO of a conservative think tank that promises to fight critical race theory and supports giving children public money for private school scholarships appears to be a big favorite in November to be elected the new leader of the Conservative schools. Caroline from the south.

But Ellen Weaver has what could be a serious problem: she doesn’t have a master’s degree, a new requirement to become superintendent of education.

Weaver started the graduate degree in April and said she would finish it before voters finish voting in November. But it’s unclear what might happen if she doesn’t, whether the issue might end up in court and whether it would open the door for a Democrat to win a statewide office in South Carolina. for the first time in 18 years.

After winning the Republican nomination on Tuesday, Weaver appeared serene at her victory party.

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“Tonight we saw that voters understand that the real qualification for this job is leadership and a strong backbone,” Weaver told reporters Tuesday night. “Having said that, I will fully fulfill all legal obligations to hold this position. I will complete my Masters in Educational Leadership in October before the general election.

Weaver faces Democratic candidate Lisa Ellis, a teacher and founder of the education advocacy group SC for Ed, who holds a graduate degree. Green Party candidate Patricia Mickel is also on the ballot. She is a teacher but it is not known if she has her master’s degree.

Weaver enrolled in a master’s program in educational leadership in April at Bob Jones University in Greenville, the conservative Christian school where she holds an undergraduate degree in political science. The school’s website says the program usually takes 12 to 18 months.

But students can set their own pace. The Registrar’s Office confirmed to The Associated Press that Weaver is currently a student and plans to take an online course in the fall.

The requirement for an advanced degree dates back to 2018, when 60% of voters rejected a constitutional amendment to have the governor appoint the head of education. Lawmakers also updated the qualifications for the position in a companion bill.

This put the position of superintendent back on the ballot in 2022. But this time, candidates must meet the new qualifications, which include a master’s degree and “extensive experience” in public education as a teacher, administrator, member of a school board or policy-making body. or operational and financial management “in any area of ​​expertise”.

The new qualifications appeared on the South Carolina Election Commission website, but received little attention until an article published in The Post and Courier a day after the filing was completed. Several applicants dropped out while others like Weaver committed to earning their higher degrees.

Parties certify that candidates are qualified for primary elections, and Republicans have said that a commitment to earning an advanced degree before the general election is sufficient.

Beyond the question of qualification, the Ellis campaign said experience matters. Unlike Weaver, the Democrat spent time in school in the classroom and in administration, spokeswoman Leesa Danzek said.

“Regardless of whether Weaver is able to complete and obtain his required master’s degree, there are of course more practical qualifications that I think many parents and constituents would like to see in the education leader in South Carolina,” Danzek told The Associated Press. .

If Weaver earns his master’s degree before statewide officers are inaugurated shortly after the November election, there will be no legal questions about his eligibility, said attorney Kevin Hall, who was state counsel for the Republican Party.

No one has sued Weaver for his qualifications yet, but the degree and experience could be disputed. Weaver has no experience in classroom or school administration, and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee she oversees does not set policy. She worked for former US Senator Jim DeMint before becoming president of the Palmetto Promise Institute think tank he founded.

Regarding concerns about Weaver’s experience, Hall noted that the code states that extensive experience in “any area of ​​expertise” is required. Weaver having served as president of the Palmetto Promise Institute, Hall said her experience “speaks for itself.”

The race for superintendents of education in South Carolina featured themes seen across the country with debates over COVID-19 class politics and a conservative outcry against so-called “critical race theory.”

Patrick Kelly, director of government affairs at the Palmetto State Teacher’s Association, said he was disappointed with the “extremely low turnout” and nationalization of the primaries.

Only 17% of South Carolina voters cast ballots in the June 14 primary, with both parties picking their candidates for superintendent. In the runoff involving Weaver two weeks later, turnout fell to 7%, according to state Election Commission data.

“In the election integrity discussion, we were too quick to discount that there is a different threat beyond voter fraud, and that is voter apathy,” Kelly said.

While the governor has said student mental health is a crisis in the state, Kelly noted that the candidates haven’t debated the issue. Meanwhile, he said the Republican primary included a lot of talk about critical race theory. The term is a way of thinking about American history through the prism of racism. It has become a political rallying cry on the right, but concrete examples of its teaching in classrooms have proven difficult to find.

Although Kelly said “indoctrination” could be a problem in some parts of the state, he added that “ultimately, it’s not within our state standards.”

Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

James Pollard is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow James Pollard on Twitter.

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