South Carolina Voters Refuse to Give Up Their Power to Elect School Superintendents

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have made the position appointed.
by | November 7, 2018
South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, center, at an election forum in 2014. (AP/Bruce Smith)

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

South Carolina voters rejected a ballot initiaitve that would have made the state superintendent of schools an appointed, not elected position.

Amendment 1, which had the backing of current state Superintendent of Schools Molly Spearman, was rejected by 60 percent of the voters. Meanwhile. Speaman cruised to victory in her own bid for reelection.

After decades of electing the state’s top education official, voters were being asked to let the governor fill the position. If it had passed, the measure would have gone into effect in 2023.

Backers of the amendment argued that it would have ensured a qualified administrator hold the post. South Carolina's superintendent position requires neither experience in education policy nor a college degree. If voters had approved Amendment 1, appointees would've needed at least a master’s degree and "substantive and broad-based experience" in public education or "experience in operational and financial management" in another field.

Spearman's Democratic opponent, Israel Romero, who is a former public school teacher, viewed the move as a power grab by the governor. "Education must keep being directed by a person elected by public vote," Romero told The State newspaper in early October. "What [Republicans] are trying to do is have control. ... The superintendent has to be independent, not somebody who is being given instructions by the governor."

South Carolina is one of 13 states where the state superintendent of public schools is elected. Seven of those states -- Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming -- are holding elections this year.

In 35 other states, the superintendent of public schools is appointed by either a state board of education or the governor. In New York and Rhode Island, the state superintendent of public schools is appointed by the state board of regents and the state board of education, respectively -- governing bodies that hold authority over not only primary and secondary but also higher education.

Electing top education officials is a rarity not just at the state level. Voters elect local superintendents in only three states in the country -- Alabama, Florida and Mississippi -- or 147 of the more than 14,000 school districts.

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.