One of the leading candidates to replace outgoing state Superintendent Molly Spearman lacks the statutory qualifications for the position, but has remained in the race on the pledge she would meet those requirements by the general election. Republican Ellen Weaver, a prominent school choice advocate who has outraised all nine other candidates combined, is racing against the clock to complete a master’s degree by Nov. 8 in order to satisfy the education requirement South Carolina lawmakers established four years ago for the state’s top schools official. Weaver, who leads a conservative think tank and until recently chaired the state’s Education Oversight Committee, enrolled in an online master’s program at a private evangelical Christian university in South Carolina earlier this year around the time it came to light that she and at least two other Republican candidates did not meet the legal requirements for the position they were seeking.
Both other candidates who lacked advanced degrees withdrew from the race, but Weaver has pushed on with plans to finish a master’s in roughly seven months. With just over a week to go until the June 14 primary, Weaver, 43, is one of 10 candidates — six Republicans, three Democrats and one Green — vying to replace Spearman, a Republican who has served as state superintendent since 2015.
“Ellen is energized and committed to fulfill this new requirement,” Weaver’s campaign manager Ryan Gillespie said in a statement Friday. “She believes it’s a great opportunity to show our students by personal example what it looks like to be a life-long learner and to encourage them that they can accomplish anything they set out to achieve.” State Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, one of the legislators who helped craft the qualifications Weaver seeks to meet, isn’t so keen on her accelerated educational pursuit. He said he wasn’t familiar with Weaver’s specific situation, but that her efforts seemed designed simply to “check a box” and ran contrary to what lawmakers had intended when they established criteria for the state’s schools chief in 2018. At the time, lawmakers were pushing a ballot initiative to transform the state superintendent into a governor-appointed position and added a requirement at the behest of Democrats that officeholders have a master’s degree and “broad-based experience” in public education or financial management. South Carolina voters roundly rejected the ballot measure, preserving an elected state schools chief, but the qualifications for the position stuck, making it one of only two statewide elected offices for which candidates must meet education requirements. The other is solicitor, which requires officeholders to be licensed to practice law by the South Carolina Bar.