Fewer States Are Electing Their State Superintendent of Schools

The race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction is one of the hottest on California’s ballot today. But in South Carolina and a growing number of other states the real question is whether to elect school superintendents at all.

As Governing reports, more and more states are choosing to make the state superintendent an appointed position. In fact, California is one of only 13 states that elect their state superintendent of schools. If South Carolina voters pass Amendment 1, we will be just one of a dozen.

In 35 other states, the superintendent of public schools is appointed by either a state board of education or the governor. In New York and Rhode Island, the state superintendent of public schools is appointed by the state board of regents and the state board of education, respectively -- governing bodies that hold authority over not only primary and secondary but also higher education.

Electing top education officials is a rarity not just at the state level. Voters elect local superintendents in only three states in the country -- Alabama, Florida and Mississippi -- or 147 of the more than 14,000 school districts.

Proponents of appointed superintendents say it helps ensure qualified candidates, including those who would rather forgo fraught (and sometimes ugly) political campaigns. It also makes it easier to get the head of education and the governor on the same page. On the flipside, those who support elected superintendents say voter choice is critical for ensuring accountability in education.


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