Candidates for education chief make final pitch to SC voters during debate

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — With six days left before Election Day, the leading candidates for state Superintendent of Education made one final pitch to South Carolina voters.

Republican candidate Ellen Weaver and Democratic candidate Lisa Ellis took the debate stage Wednesday night.

The debate was hosted by SCETV along with the Post and Courier. The candidates were asked various questions about school safety, learning loss due to the pandemic, the teacher shortage and why they believe they are the more qualified candidate.

Ellis, a teacher, founded the teacher grassroots advocacy group SC for Ed. She said her goal is to get high quality teachers in every classroom in South Carolina.

Ellis said her experience in the classroom prepared her for this role, “What I have seen through my 22 years of experience in the classroom is that what’s happening at the policy level is not helping students and teachers.”

Weaver is the founding President and CEO of the conservative think tank Palmetto Promise Institute. She also served as the chair of the state Education Oversight Committee.

She said her work with lawmakers will help her have the ability to lead on the first day in office, “You have to be able to work with the General Assembly, the governor, superintendents and educators across the state in order to get anything done.”

The candidates agreed on increasing teacher pay and improving working conditions for teachers. Ellis said the state should raise salaries so they are competitive with other industries. Weaver suggested reallocating money in the current education budget to help pay for increasing salary to the national average.

They both said as the chief of the state Department of Education they would look at outdated policies or programs. Addressing mental health and school safety are some of their priorities as well.

The candidates did clash on whether school board races should be partisan and school choice.

Weaver is a proponent of education savings accounts. The legislation that would have created this school voucher-like program in South Carolina stalled earlier this year. She said, “I want children to be in the environment where they learn best. Too often many families face income limitations because of their zip code and circumstances.”

Ellis said she is against the use of public money to help cover things like private school tuition. She said, “When we talk about vouchers and tax credits, the concern I continue to have is a lack of transparency and accountability.”

Both candidates disagreed on whether critical race theory is taught in public schools and what role parents should play in what is in school libraries.

Weaver spoke out against “pornographic” books in school libraries and said parents should have a way to report their concerns about this and lessons taught in class. “A school should never come between a student and parent when it comes to these decisions.”

Ellis said repeatedly during the debate these were not real issues impacting schools and students. She said, “Our students always had choice in what they wanted to read. Students and teachers know students learn best when they see themselves reflected in the classroom.”

Early voting runs through November 5th. Election Day is November 8th.

You can watch Wednesday night’s debate below:

SC Superintendent of Education Debate (Courtesy: SC ETV)

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