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South Carolina voters to choose new state education leader

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Voters in South Carolina have a big decision ahead on Tuesday, when the Palmetto State will have a new education leader named as State Superintendent of Education.

Three people are on the ballot for the job: Lisa Ellis with the Democrat Party, Ellen Weaver with the Republican Party, and Patricia Mickel with the Green Party. They’re vying to replace outgoing superintendent Molly Spearman, a former Republican legislator who was elected superintendent in 2014.

Whoever wins the role will lead the state’s education initiatives and have an overview of funding for each school district. For local parents like Lindsay Curby, the goal is for the next superintendent to make changes that will impact teachers for the better.

“We need to better fund our public schools so we can get and keep the teachers in our district,” Curby told Channel 9. “You can have a master’s [degree] in education and you’re paid less than a lot of jobs out there.”

That’s a sentiment that both Ellis and Weaver agreed on. But before any policy changes, they’ll have to face off in the election, and it’s already drawn some controversy.

Weaver worked for Sen. Jim DeMint for more than a decade before helping launch the Palmetto Promise Institute, a public policy research organization. She’s an advocate for school choice and holds a bachelor’s degree from Bob Jones University.

Ellis is a 20-year educator who has spent years in the classroom, and she’s also the founder of SC For Ed, an organization that advocates for teachers. She has two master’s degrees.

The latter point touches on the controversy: Weaver didn’t start pursuing a master’s degree until this year, and South Carolina law requires the state’s top educator to hold a graduate degree.

A spokesperson for Weaver’s campaign told Channel 9 that Weaver completed all the required coursework for her master’s degree in October as part of an online program through Bob Jones University. She’s expected to be conferred her degree in December, according to the spokesperson.

Despite the degree discrepancy, both candidates said during a debate last week that they’re qualified to hold the top spot.

“This is a huge job that requires leadership, management, and policy experience, all things I’ve been privileged to hone over the last two decades of my career,” Weaver said.

“I believe that the teacher-voice understanding what is really going on in schools and how best to fix ... needs to come up to the policy level,” Ellis said.

No Democrat has been elected to serve as state superintendent since Jim Rex in 2006.

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