COLUMBIA - Two Republicans and two Democrats have advanced to runoffs in the race for South Carolina's superintendent of education.
In the GOP race, Sally Atwater and Molly Spearman topped the polls in the eight-way Republican primary on Tuesday night. Atwater and Spearman each unofficially received roughly 22 percent of the vote.
The 60-year-old Spearman is the executive director of the state Association of School Administrators and lives in Saluda. Atwater, 63, is a native of Union and a former special needs teacher in Colleton County. Her late husband was GOP strategist Lee Atwater.
In the Democratic race, Sheila Gallagher and Tom Thompson were the biggest vote getters in the four-way primary. Gallagher unofficially received 37 percent, while Thompson received 26 percent of the vote.
The 60-year-old Gallagher is the former president of the South Carolina Education Association and a former Florence County teacher. Thompson, 64, is dean of graduate studies at South Carolina State University and lives in Columbia.
The winners of the June 24 runoffs will also face American Party candidate Ed Murray.
The eight-way Republican primary centered on what standards should replace Common Core, which have been adopted on a state-by-state basis and outline what students should know by each grade level. The primary also focused on the role education should play in meeting the technical needs of a changing economy; simplifying the funding formula for school districts; parental school choice and vouchers; and school safety.
The Democratic primary centered on funding for public education, increasing teacher pay, creating a fair teacher evaluation system and boosting state support for public schools. Candidates only differed on the means to go about achieving those goals.
Gallagher and Thompson also both emphasized a need for parent, community and business involvement in failing schools. Gallagher made headlines for endorsing the idea of allowing South Carolinians to vote on legalizing marijuana and using taxes raised from its sales to fund public education and increase teacher pay. Thompson has said that a one- or two-cent tax increase to boost education funding is a viable alternative to a property tax increase.
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