Molly Spearman could be South Carolina’s last elected State Superintendent of Education. Last week the South Carolina Senate passed H. 3126 that would allow voters to decide whether they want to amend the South Carolina State Constitution to allow the Governor to appoint the State Superintendent of Education instead of electing that position. Voters will decide this in November.
The South Carolina House voted on the resolution 87 to 24 on February 22, 2017, to send it to the Senate. The South Carolina Senate voted in favor of it 38 to 6 on Thursday prior to the legislature’s adjourning Sine Die.
Here’s the text of the resolution:
PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO SECTION 7, ARTICLE VI OF THE CONSTITUTION OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1895, AS AMENDED, RELATING TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS OF THIS STATE, SO AS TO DELETE THE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION FROM THE LIST OF STATE OFFICERS WHICH THE CONSTITUTION REQUIRES TO BE ELECTED AND PROVIDE THAT THE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION MUST BE APPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR, UPON THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE, TO SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF THE GOVERNOR BEGINNING IN JANUARY 2023, OR UPON A VACANCY IN THE OFFICE OF THE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION AFTER THE DATE OF THE RATIFICATION OF THIS AMENDMENT, WHICHEVER OCCURS FIRST, AND TO PROVIDE THAT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY SHALL PROVIDE BY LAW FOR THE DUTIES, COMPENSATION, AND QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE OFFICE.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:
SECTION 1. It is proposed that Section 7, Article VI of the Constitution of this State, as last amended by Act 1 of 2015, is further amended by adding the following new paragraph at the end:
“Beginning in January 2023, or upon a vacancy in the office of Superintendent of Education after the date of the ratification of the provisions of this paragraph, whichever occurs first, the Superintendent of Education must be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The appointed Superintendent of Education shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The General Assembly shall provide by law for the duties, compensation, and qualifications for the office.”
SECTION 2. The proposed amendment in Section 1 must be submitted to the qualified electors at the next general election for representatives. Ballots must be provided at the various voting precincts with the following words printed or written on the ballot:
“Must Section 7, Article VI of the Constitution of this State, relating to state constitutional officers, be amended so as to provide that beginning in January 2023, or upon a vacancy in the office of Superintendent of Education after the date of the ratification of the provisions of this paragraph, whichever occurs first, the Superintendent of Education must be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate; to provide that the appointed Superintendent of Education shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor; and to require the General Assembly to provide by law for the duties, compensation, and qualifications for the office?
Yes  No Those voting in favor of the question shall deposit a ballot with a check or cross mark in the square after the word ‘Yes’, and those voting against the question shall deposit a ballot with a check or cross mark in the square after the word ‘No’.”
Cindi Ross Scoppe, the associate editor of The State, outlined why she believes this would be a good change:
One reason to make the change is to get us closer to having three co-equal branches of government. Our Legislature divided the executive branch between nine statewide elected offices in order to prevent this. Although the Legislature recently allowed governors to appoint the lieutenant governor and adjutant general, the education superintendent was always the holy grail, because 40 percent of the state budget goes to education.
Forcing voters to decide all of those statewide elections (on top of federal, legislative and local races) also guarantees that most offices won’t get the attention they need. And not only do we know too little about the candidates for these down-ballot races, but any time we spend on them leaves us less time to study the more important races.
There’s a much longer list of reasons we’d be better off with an appointed superintendent — among them, it will force the governor to own education; it will let the governor fire a bad superintendent; it will open the position to a lot of great candidates who aren’t willing to put themselves through an election.
I understand some of the rationale for wanting an appointed state school chief. I certainly understand why the Governor would want to gain more control over the executive branch.
That said, this move favors educracy, not the grassroots. To say that state government is accountable to no one, like Scoppe argued in her piece, is not true they are accountable to voters. While an appointed State School Chief is easier for the Governor to fire, an elected one is easier for voters to fire.
Also, a strong legislature in comparison to the executive branch places a check on the bureaucracy in South Carolina.
If I were a voter in South Carolina I would vote no.