SC state superintendent of education race headed to runoff on Republican side; Lisa Ellis advances for Democrats

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Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 9:10 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2022 at 11:06 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In the crowded race to replace outgoing South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, three remain: a pair of Republicans, and Democrat Lisa Ellis.

The Republican primary is headed to runoff election which will determine whether Kathy Maness, Palmetto State Teachers Association Executive Director, or Ellen Weaver, president and CEO of the Palmetto Promise Institute, take on Ellis in November’s general election.

Both are optimistic about their chances in the June 28th runoff.

“The future of public education depends on this vote on June 28th,” Maness said.

Kathy Maness, the only candidate to receive more than 100,000, said that this is evidence of her grassroots support across the state.

Weaver said she’s excited about the support she received on Tuesday as well.

“Almost 60 percent of the people who voted in the Republican primary said that they’re tired of the education status quo, and they want real change and real reform, and that’s what I plan to give them as their next superintendent,” she said.

Maness, a former teacher, has the backing of current state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. Weaver has been endorsed by several conservative state lawmakers.

Weaver called out Maness as someone who “has not really stood up for conservative or Republican values.”

Maness touted her conservative credentials as a member of Lexington’s town council. She also spoke of her ability to work across the aisle for the betterment of students.

State law requires the state superintendent to have a master’s degree in education or business management.

Currently, Weaver does not meet this requirement.

“We must have someone who meets the letter of the law, meets the qualifications, has that master’s degree,” Maness said. “I have that.”

Weaver said she will have the advanced degree qualification completed by October of this year, in advance of the general election.

As for the candidates’ top priorities, Maness said every student that leaves South Carolina public schools must be ready for enrollment, enlistment and employment.

“We must empower our parents, teachers and principals,” she said. “We’ve got to recruit and retain our teachers. We need less paperwork for our teachers, less testing and we have to restore discipline in our classrooms so that our teachers can teach, and our students can learn.”

Weaver said students in South Carolina are “falling behind,” and the education system needs reform.

“South Carolina has got to get in the game if we are going to be competitive and have the jobs and economic opportunity that our state needs for the future,” she said.

Both candidates said they have the right experience for the job. Maness mentioned her time as a third-grade teacher in Lancaster County.

“I’ve been in the classroom, and now as the Executive Director of Palmetto State Teachers Association, I have been advocating for parents and teachers for many, many years,” she said. “I’ve worked with the General Assembly; I know how to do that.”

Weaver said she believes she has the right executive leadership skills after serving as chair of the state’s Education Oversight Committee.

“What we need in the superintendent’s office is someone who is going to be the quarterback of the South Carolina education system, someone who can call the plays and build the team that it’s going to take in order to get the job done,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years of my career, working both in Washington and in Columbia, building the relationships that it’s going to take to actually get something done on behalf of our students, our parents and our teachers.”

On the Democratic side, Ellis appears to have enough votes to avoid a runoff and win outright.

In a statement that came after 100 percent of counties reported their voting totals, Ellis said: “South Carolinians are counting on the office of the State Superintendent to pull our state, our students, and our teachers out of the depths of the lowest ranking states for public education. I am humbled and enthused that South Carolina voters expressed their belief in me and my vision to run for State Superintendent in November’s general election.

This general election will be a referendum on the failures of the past. No longer will we pay teachers below their value. No longer will students graduate from high school uncompetitive with their peers in other states. Over the next five months, you will hear from both my opponent and me as to why we each believe we make the best candidate to serve as State Superintendent. I am confident that voters will find that I represent the best interests of parents, students, and teachers.

Thank you to all of the volunteers, supporters, voters, and everyone who sent words of support for this campaign. Your time and efforts have made a difference in moving the needle.”

Second-place finisher Dr. Gary Burgess, a longtime South Carolina educator, said he is proud of his campaign for “doing a great job working together to get the word out there about democracy and making sure we preserve it.”

“We’ll wish Miss Ellis if there’s no runoff the best of luck,” he said.

No democrat has won a statewide race since 2006, when Jim Rex was elected state Superintendent of Education.

The South Carolina Election Commission said that results in all statewide races will be certified on Friday at 3 P.M.

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