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Nikki Haley endorses Ellen Weaver for SC education chief, says job is not about resumes

Weaver Haley

Ellen Weaver, the Republican candidate for state education superintendent, addresses the media alongside former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Haley, a former U.N. ambassador, endorsed Weaver in her bid to become the state's public education chief. Caitlin Byrd/Staff

Former Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Republican Ellen Weaver in the race for state superintendent of education, calling her "a leader in everything she's ever touched" who will help teachers and empower parents despite her having never taught in a classroom.

Haley made the announcement Oct. 24 while standing and smiling alongside Weaver before the two headlined a rally that doubled as a fundraiser in downtown Charleston.

The event, which was held inside an upscale private dining room, was not open to the press but Haley and Weaver took questions from the media beforehand.

Haley has become a sought-after national GOP surrogate who has flexed her political muscle in top-of-the-ticket races around the country, chiefly federal races for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, along with governor and state attorneys general.

Haley confirmed her endorsement of Weaver marks the first time she's waded into a statewide education contest this election cycle.

When asked about her decision to support Weaver, a conservative think-tank leader who has never taught or worked in a school, Haley turned the question around and retold the story of her own unlikely political rise.

"I think citizens tend to say, 'Oh there's a criteria and there's a playbook.' Well, everyone thought that I shouldn't run against a 30-year incumbent in a primary. Everyone thought that I shouldn't run for governor. People said I wasn't qualified to be the U.N. ambassador," Haley said.

"What I know is the thing that trumps all that is leadership," Haley said, nodding to Weaver. "When you get someone in there that understands (that's) what their goal is, it's not about résumés."

The debate over Weaver's qualifications has dominated the race that will determine the next leader of education policy for the state’s 777,000 students and 54,700 teachers.

She entered the race without a master's degree, a qualification required by a previously little-known South Carolina law that states candidates for state superintendent must hold a master’s degree and have "broad-based experience" in either public education or financial management.

Weaver has since said she obtained her master's from Bob Jones University, but she took Haley's lead and asserted the role is about her ability to lead and manage a multibillion-dollar state agency.

"I am proud to stand with someone who has a track record of proven leadership because, again, that's what this job is about," Weaver said. "I am not running to be a classroom teacher. I am running to put the experience that I have had in over 20 years of public service to work on behalf of the students, the parents and the teachers of this state."

Weaver faces Democrat Lisa Ellis, a Richland 2 teacher and the founder of the South Carolina teacher advocacy group SC for Ed, and Green Party candidate Patricia Mickel for the top education job.

Ellis' campaign earlier characterized Haley’s visit as a sign that Weaver and Haley are more focused on advancing their political ambitions than representing South Carolina’s students and families.

The Haley endorsement also illustrated how politicized education races have become across the country.

In her remarks, Haley advocated for a discussion on school choice and voiced opposition to critical race theory and transgender athletes playing in girls sports. 

"If you have a 5-year-old girl and she goes to kindergarten and she's White, you tell her she's bad," Haley said, shaking her head. "And if she's Brown or Black, you're telling she's not going to be good enough and she's always going to be a victim."

Republicans have been quick to seize on education as a winning political issue this election cycle, especially after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on the idea of giving parents more say over what their children are learning in schools in 2021.

Election Day is Nov. 8, and the two-week, no-excuse early voting period is already underway.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-998-5404 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Senior Politics Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is the senior politics reporter at The Post and Courier. An award-winning reporter, Byrd previously worked as an enterprise reporter for The State newspaper, where she covered the Charleston region and South Carolina politics.

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