Columbia, SC — On Tuesday, voters will have the opportunity to select the Republican nominee for state superintendent of education in a runoff. In my opinion, that is one of the most important choices we have to make at the polls that day.
The choice is between Molly Spearman and Sally Atwater; six other hopefuls were eliminated in the primary election after a campaign that at times seemed like a single issue (Common Core State Standards) matter. Although the Common Core may deserve some measure of attention, no candidate should be defined by that issue alone. The responsibilities of the state superintendent go far beyond the Common Core.
The Department of Education is responsible for administering a multitude of state and federally mandated programs that for the current fiscal year involves a staff of 570 and a budget of approximately of $3.8 billion. A large portion of the budget consists of “flow-through” monies to school districts.
In view of the size of the agency and the number of programs it administers, it should be clear that in addition to being an experienced and knowledgeable educator the superintendent should be an experienced administrator. Of the two candidates, Ms. Spearman appears to be the only one who satisfies both criteria. She has many years of teaching experience, service as an assistant principal, was deputy state superintendent for governmental relations, and for the past nine years has served as the executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, an organization of over 3,000 members.
Although Ms. Atwater has some experience as a teacher and may be a nice person, I am not aware of any of her experiences that could equip her to effectively administer an agency as large and as complex as the Department of Education.