- In South Carolina, one of the few remaining where state school superintendents are elected, voters will decide next month whether to approve an amendment that would leave the position to be appointed by the governor beginning in 2023, Governing reports.
- Proponents of the new amendment say the change would mean that only qualified candidates would hold the post. Currently, candidates are not required to have a college degree or any background in education. Opponents of the plan say the measure is a power grab by the Republican governor and would lessen the impact voters have on state education policy.
- South Carolina is only one of 13 states where the state superintendent is currently elected; in most other states, the position is appointed by either the governor or the state board of education.
The debate over the best way to choose a state superintendent is open again this year as the majority of the nation’s 13 elected school superintendent positions are up for grabs. If the South Carolina ballot measure passes, only 12 states will choose state school chiefs through election. This reflects a trend, as 70% of state superintendents were once chosen by election.
Voters impact the decision to some degree in every state. The difference lies in how direct that impact is. In states where the decision is made by the governor, voters elect the governor who then appoints the school chief. In other states, voters elect the governor, who appoints a state board of education to make the decision. The degree of influence by voters on the choice of school superintendent impacts not only policy, but also how political the position has become. In some states, like California, the battle for the office of state superintendent has become the most expensive superintendent's race in history.
Proponents of making the position appointed say it is the best way to ensure that only qualified applicants are considered. For instance, in South Carolina, one of the candidates running for the post has a felony conviction. according to a newspaper report which details his record. In other states, the current candidates vary greatly in levels of education experience. If voters are aware of candidates' backgrounds, they might choose whoever appears most qualified candidate. However, their choices are limited by the names on the ballot, not by the list of most qualified candidates.
The salary of state superintendents is also affected by the way they are chosen. According to Education Week, the average elected state superintendent makes $115,000 annually compared with $158,000 average for governor-appointed positions and $223,000 for state board appointed positions. It is also worth noting than only nine states pay the state superintendent more that the superintendent leading the largest school district in that state.