COLUMBIA, SC — A proposal to allow the governor to appoint the states schools chief rather than have the public elect the superintendent advanced in the SC Senate on Thursday.
The change has been long sought by Democrats and Republicans who say placing the governor in charge of education, the states largest single budget item, would make government more accountable.
However, the restructuring, which requires an amendment to the state Constitution, faces several more hurdles before it becomes law.
The bill must pass the Senate a third and final time, where it faces more debate, possible amendment and must be approved by two-thirds of senators. From there, the bill must win approval by two-thirds of the SC House and a majority of voters in the 2014 General Election.
One statewide education group is opposing the bill.
SC Education Association director Roger Smith has said the state schools chief should answer to voters. He called the plan a distraction from the real challenge of improving public education.
A similar bill passed the House in 2011, barely achieving the two-thirds majority needed. However, it died in the Senate.
But, this year, the plan is gaining momentum, starting with the chamber where it last died.
Endorsements from Gov. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington; state Superintendent Mick Zais, R-Newberry; and, most recently, former state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, a two-term Lexington Democrat, are helping.
Campaigning for election takes superintendents away from their jobs and discourages talented educators from seeking the position, Tenenbaum told The State on Thursday. Tenenbaum said she pushed to make the post appointed while she was superintendent.
Changing how the state selects its constitutional officers is part of a government restructuring proposal to give the governor more power and more accountability for state functions.
Final Senate debate of the superintendents bill next week likely will touch on the qualifications that lawmakers would require of candidates for the post if voters are no longer vetting them.
If (the superintendent of education) is going to be appointed, then that person needs to have strong qualifications and be a strong advocate of public education, said Senate Majority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington.
The bills sponsor, state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said he thinks the Senate will agree upon qualifications with little trouble.
Lawmakers also will consider proposals by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, to add other constitutional officers to the proposed amendment.
Sheheen, who has long advocated government restructuring, wants to ask voters to approve letting the governor appoint the adjutant general, leader of the states National Guard and agriculture commissioner. He also wants to abolish the posts of secretary of state and the comptroller general.
It doesnt make sense to do piecemeal reform, Sheheen said. When youre reforming state government, you ought to try to have as comprehensive an approach as possible.
However, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, expressed concern Sheheens amendments would load the wagon too heavy, killing the bill.
Abolishing offices also would draw opposition from the politicians now holding those posts, said Campsen, adding he hopes Sheheen instead will focus on the low-hanging fruit.
Campsen said he would support asking voters to decide whether they want to continue electing the adjutant general, a post now held by Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, R-Lexington. Like Zais, Livingston has endorsed having his post appointed by the governor.
Letting the governor choose the states schools chief will require:
• Approval of a constitutional amendment by two-thirds of the state Senate and S.C. House 31 votes are needed in the Senate and 83 in the House.
• Approval of the amendment by voters in the 2014 General Election.
• Ratification of the amendment by the General Assembly, which likely would happen in 2015.
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