GOP Superintendent Candidates Push School Reform

South Carolina voters go back to the polls Tuesday, June 24th, to vote in a runoff for state education superintendent. For the Republicans, the runoff is between top vote-getter Molly Spearman and Sally Atwater. For the Democrats, it's Sheila Gallagher against Tom Thompson.

Atwater and Spearman are pushing their plans for improving South Carolina schools.

In a new TV ad, Atwater says her plan, "calls for safer schools, reading coaches, technology, more choices and less federal intervention."

Her specific plan for safer schools hasn't been formulated yet. She says, "I want to meet with law enforcement. I want to have a big discussion on safer schools, on safer school buses even. And then I want to go and take a survey, a survey out in all of the schools throughout the districts and have them come up with what they feel like they are, and then we'll compile it and see exactly where they are."

Spearman is more specific, saying she first wants more districts to put in place an anti-bullying curriculum that some are using already.

"The other issue I think is on mental health counselors," she says. "That is really the way that we need to move forward to ensure more safety in our schools. When I talk with teachers and with school principals, they're telling me they're seeing more and more mental health issues younger and younger and there's definitely a shortage and a real need there. So I would work very closely with the Mental Health Department and with school districts to try to put more mental health counselors in schools."

Both also talk about adding reading coaches to schools or improving reading. Atwater says she would work with Gov. Nikki

Haley to implement the governor's school plan that lawmakers just passed, which includes a reading coach in every elementary school. Spearman helped the governor write that plan as head of the SC Association of School Administrators.

They're both also against "federal intervention" in state schools, specifically the Common Core Standards. But state lawmakers passed a bill this year to review the standards next year, meaning the superintendent can't do anything about Common Core on her own.

"You're always working with the state Board of Education and Oversight Committee, so we'll see," Atwater says.

Spearman says, "The legislature has really settled the issue and they have said that the next state superintendent, that will be your number one priority. They answered the question for us and said that there will be an immediate review and we will put in place South Carolina standards."

Both also favor more choices for parents, both public school options and some kind of private school vouchers or tax credits.


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