This month the Senate Education Committee resumed hearings on its version of the education omnibus bill that passed the House earlier this year, with the primary topic being governance reform. However, the “reforms” under discussion are focused solely on state intervention into local schools – to the point of suspending local school boards under certain circumstances.
What’s missing is any consideration of the entire education system’s lack of accountability. Lawmakers – who are responsible for the education system as a whole, not individual schools – have designed an educational governance structure comprised by multiple boards that are entirely unaccountable to the voters – much more so, incidentally, than local school boards.
Through the State Board of Education, the Education Oversight Committee, and the constant legislative micromanaging of the classroom, lawmakers are entirely responsible for the systemic failure of public education in this state – failure that’s resulted from an educational approach which concentrates power in the hands of lawmakers instead of working for, and answering directly to, the people of South Carolina. Unfortunately, this area of educational governance is the one lawmakers have so far refused to address.
There is one question that we should all ask when analyzing elements of South Carolina government: Who controls it? Answering that question can often be a profoundly frustrating experience, as many of those in charge are largely unaccountable to citizens.
This is especially true for education, with concerning results: South Carolina ranks as having one of the worst education systems in the country. With education reform likely to be a pressing issue in the 2018 legislative session, now is an important time to better understand who controls the educational system and why it is unaccountable to the people.
Statewide, K-12 education is technically overseen by three different entities: the Department of Education (DOE); the State Board of Education; and the Education Oversight Committee (EOC). However, the authority of the DOE is quite limited. Furthermore, the Superintendent of Education – the only statewide elected education official – serves mostly in an administrative capacity with minimal policy input. Instead, education policy is shaped by the State Board of Education and the EOC. In addition to being the most powerful entities controlling education, they are also the least accountable, and answer not to citizens, but to lawmakers.