By Ellen Weaver

Education is the front door of the American Dream. In our land of freedom and opportunity, anything is possible through the power of a great education. Sadly, that door remains bolted shut for far too many South Carolina children.

Throwing open the door of education excellence, freedom, and opportunity for every student, whatever their zip code, income, or abilities, is the challenge of our lifetime.

That’s why I’m running to be South Carolina’s next State Superintendent of Education.

It’s no secret that our state faces many tough educational challenges. These problems have persisted in South Carolina for decades, and COVID has only increased the urgency of the situation. Our complex spiderweb of funding streams siphon dollars away from classrooms. Decades of well-meaning programs and layer upon layer of administrative bureaucracy smother creativity and innovation.

This deadly combination ties the hands of great teachers and principals, disempowers parents, and ultimately too often fails to deliver the educational opportunities our children require to meet their full, God-given potential.

Despite historic revenue levels of over $15,000 per student on average—and receiving an unprecedented additional $3+ billion in one-time federal funds—over half of South Carolina’s elementary and middle school students are not on grade level for Math or English. An alarming and growing number of those students are at least two years behind.

But rather than a laser focus on helping children recover the “3 R’s,” we have learned that precious time and attention is instead being diverted towards force-feeding teachers and students divisive political agendas that have no place in our classrooms. Is it any wonder perplexed parents across America are standing up to say, “Enough!”?

The good news: there is a better way.

Other states are moving to address these challenges with a sense of urgency and have proved significant progress is possible. Our children here in the Palmetto State deserve that same chance.

First, we must shift more dollars to the students and teachers in the classroom and cut top-heavy programs that waste taxpayer money and stifle the talents of great educators. Our one-size-fits-all system isn’t working for teachers or students.

We must put top priority on elevating teachers and principals as the CEO’s of their classrooms and schools, and empowering parents of every income level with choices to find the very best education fit for their child.

Second, every child in South Carolina, from Greenville to Greeleyville, must have access to high-quality curriculum and well-trained teachers, especially career and technology courses. The future of South Carolina’s economy depends on today’s students learning the skills needed to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

Third, we must refocus our education system on foundational skills like strong literacy and mathematics so that our students have the knowledge they need to succeed in life, whether college or career.

And along with these three key priorities, we must insist on total academic and financial transparency. Parents deserve to know what their children are being taught and taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent.

While there is much to be done, I whole-heartedly believe that the promise of our state motto applies to education: while we breathe, we hope. And then we get to work.

I have spent most of my life working in public policy to create a brighter future for South Carolina’s students. I have stood beside parents for years in the fight to assert their right to control their child’s educational future. I have led one of the largest public policy organizations in South Carolina to fight for conservative principles, like opportunity-focused education policies that recognize the limitless potential of every student. And as chair of the Education Oversight Committee, I have fought every day for transparency on behalf of South Carolina’s kids.

I’m running for superintendent with a singular focus: an excellent education for every child in South Carolina. By partnering with students, parents, teachers, faith communities, and business leaders across South Carolina, we can make that focus more than just a promise. We can make it a reality.

Let’s get started.

This opinion editorial appeared in The State newspaper.