South Carolina Superintendent of Education Mick Zais' decision not to seek re-election attracted 12 people vying for the open job, 8 Republicans and 4 Democrats. But the job itself has limited powers.
For example, many of the candidates are talking about the Common Core Standards and what they would do about them as superintendent. But Dr. Zais says state lawmakers have passed a law setting up a review of the standards next year, likely to change them. That means the new superintendent can't do anything about Common Core. "That's a done deal. That process is already moving ahead," Zais says.
So what are the big issues facing the next superintendent?
Zais says expanding school choice is one, and coming up with a way to measure teacher effectiveness is the other, so school districts can reward good teachers and help those who aren't as effective.
"After all is said and done, we know that the single most important thing in a child's education, after the home environment, is that man or woman in the front of the classroom," he says. "And we also know that there are enormous differences in the effectiveness of teachers."
The state superintendent administers numerous federal and state education programs, but actually has no power to make policy or even set the state's education budget. The superintendent makes a budget recommendation and can advocate on behalf of policies, but has no way to put them in place on his own.
"The state superintendent has to be a spokesperson and use his access to the media, and the bully pulpit, to shape public opinion so that will come to bear in our General Assembly to shape policy," he says.