The Democratic candidates for state superintendent of education debated issues from funding to whether the schools' chief post should be elected.
The debate was the first in a series hosted by ETV of candidates running on the June 10 primary ballot. The candidates discussed what they would do as S.C. Superintendent of Education, an administrative position with responsibilities that include overseeing the state Department of Education and serving as secretary to the State Board of Education.
Candidate Sheila Gallagher, of Florence, made headlines when she suggested raising money for schools by legalizing marijuana and using the revenue.
The controversial topic was not supported by the other three candidates.
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“I can't vision having a situation here in South Carolina where we say ‘Buy marijuana so we can have high quality schools,'’ ” said Tom Thompson, of Forest Acres. “That just doesn't make sense to me.”
Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, pointedly called marijuana a gateway drug and said education should not be funded through sin taxes.
Montrio Belton, of Fort Mill, said he could not tell his third-grade son to participate in drug-free events in school and then tell him that he should start smoking marijuana to fund public schools when he turns 18. He also said it would create another unstable funding source based on how much marijuana is used.
If marijuana revenue is not a legitimate option to fund the system, then other methods should be looked at, the candidates said.
Thompson suggested another two cents added to sales taxes.
Gallagher said tax exemptions, such as the $300 maximum sales tax on a car, should be addressed.
She also suggested taxes should be looked at like tithing is in churches.
“I think our taxes are a tithing to our communities,” she said.
Belton suggested simplifying the complicated funding formulas for education used to measure how much money should go toward education.
Govan criticized the legislature's decision to pass Act 388 in 2006, which eliminated a property tax that funded schools, and created a higher sales tax. Govan said he fought against ACT 388 passing.
The candidates also discussed how they would address failing schools.
Belton suggested immediately offering other choices in public schools for parents to send their children to.
Thompson said schools are being underserviced by the S.C. Department of Education and said there is a nonexistent relationship between the state superintendent of education and district superintendents and principals. A collaborative approach across the system and positive energy would address failing schools, he said.
Gallagher said that parents and communities must be engaged in failing schools and she emphasized quality after-school programs.
Govan said assigning letter grades is not a solution to problem schools, and he said the state is not doing its part to support schools financially.
The eight Republican candidates for S.C. Superintendent of Education will debate Tuesday at 7 p.m.