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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: SC runoff is for everybody who cares about SC schools. Vote for Maness.

Spearman endorses Maness (copy)

Republican Kathy Maness was endorsed earlier this month by outgoing S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman. She faces Ellen Weaver in next week's runoff. File/Seanna Adcox/Staff  

We’ve heard a lot in the Republican race for S.C. superintendent of education about shaking up the education status quo. And that’s certainly needed, although as we’ve seen with earlier efforts, there’s not much the superintendent can do as long as the Legislature refuses to treat public education like the state responsibility it is rather than merely complaining when local officials aren’t getting the job done.

But unless your idea of shaking up the system is to shut down the public schools and hand vouchers to all 780,000 public school students — which isn’t realistic since private schools have neither the capacity nor the desire to educate all those kids — all the shaking in the world won’t do a bit of good if you can’t convince enough teachers to come to work in our schools.

The runner-up in the first round of voting, Ellen Weaver, promises to “support our teachers in the classroom,” but she says little unless asked about convincing more teachers to remain in the classroom and attracting more people into the profession — which has become our most pressing education problem as the national teacher shortage deepens in our state. Her main focus seems to be on addressing the “fault lines” that the pandemic opened in our schools and providing more school choices for parents — by which she means primarily throwing tax dollars at private schools. The ideological extremists underwriting postcard campaign mailings in her support underscore her focus on culture war issues.

By contrast, combatting the teacher shortage is the top priority for top vote-getter Kathy Maness — not just since she started running to replace retiring Superintendent Molly Spearman, but throughout her career as a classroom teacher and teacher advocate.

What sets Ms. Maness apart is not any particular plan for recruiting and retaining enough teachers so we don’t have to double up classrooms and rely on long-term substitutes and international teachers (who often have a hard time connecting with struggling students) but the fact that she recognizes the problem, has a lifelong commitment to the profession, understands how to motivate teachers and has a track record of working across political lines to support pragmatic solutions to our schools' problems.

Contrary to the impression you’d get from her opponents, Ms. Maness doesn’t support teacher unions, which aren’t even legal in South Carolina. To the contrary, the Palmetto State Teachers Association that she runs was founded for the explicit purpose of giving teachers an alternative to unions. She’s someone who has spent a career as a teacher and a voice for teachers. And rather than focusing exclusively on teachers, she has worked for policies to ensure those teachers better serve the students and parents of our state. And it shows.

As Lynda Leventis-Wells, who received 28,000 votes in last week’s primary, said when she endorsed Ms. Maness: “It is essential that we have a State Superintendent that has classroom experience and understands what our students, parents, and teachers go through on a daily basis. It is also critical that we elect someone who meets the state qualifications for this office.”

It's also important, she noted, that the nominee be qualified for the job. While we can debate professional qualifications, there's no debating that Ms. Maness has the master's degree required by state law and that Ms. Weaver didn't start working on a degree until filing closed in mid-March. If she's nominated, we'll find out in November whether she earns that degree in eight months — and whether all of her votes get thrown out and the office gets handed to Democrat Lisa Ellis if she fails.

It’s encouraging that Ms. Maness led the field last Tuesday, winning 38 of 46 counties, given all the money that pro-voucher groups in Washington and Columbia have spent on independent campaigns to try to convince us to support Ms. Weaver. Although Weaver supporters have suggested that Ms. Maness’ support came primarily from Democrats voting in the GOP primary — something that is completely legal, and appropriate as long as they aren't trying to sabotage a primary — the reality is that participation in the GOP primary was almost identical to four years ago. 

The problem isn’t that too many Democrats voted in this year's Republican primary. It’s that too few Democrats, Republicans and independents — just 17% of registered voters — participated in either party's primary. Although the winner of the runoff still faces Ms. Ellis in November, South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2006, and there’s little to suggest that will change this year.

That means next week's runoff is the only realistic chance you have to decide who will run the agency that handles nearly half the state budget and who will serve as our state's chief advocate for public education.

Early voting is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and regular voting is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28.

The approximately 180,000 people who voted in the Democratic primary are the only registered voters who are barred from voting in the Republican runoff. That leaves more than 3.1 million registered voters who can vote in the runoff between Ms. Maness and Ms. Weaver. And the only ones of those 3.1 million who shouldn’t vote are those who don’t know anything about Ms. Maness and Ms. Weaver beyond the slick postcards that have arrived in their mail.

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