S.C. State Chief Candidate Quits Race After Revelations of Felony Record, Fake Degree

By Daarel Burnette II — October 22, 2018 2 min read
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Israel Romero, a retired teacher, church trustee, and grandfather, withdrew his bid to be South Carolina’s next state superintendent last week after a local newspaper revealed that he has a prior felony conviction and placed on his résumé at least one degree that can’t be substantiated.

Romero is a Democrat. His withdrawal from the race comes just a few weeks before South Carolina voters will decide whether to keep the state schools’ chief position an elected one. South Carolina is among a small handful of states where voters elect statewide superintendents.

Romero, according to the Anderson Independent Mail, was convicted of a felony in 2008 for falsely presenting himself in federal court as an attorney for a client involved in an immigration case. He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and spend three months in jail, according to the paper.

Romero up until last week was running against incumbent state chief Molly Spearman, a Republican who is now running unopposed. He was little known in the state and didn’t have a campaign website but posted frequently on his Facebook and LinkedIn pages essays in Spanish about the many issues that plague South Carolina’s public school system, including a widespread teacher shortage, funding issues, and lagging academic performance.

Candidates for public office in South Carolina aren’t eligible for running for office up to 15 years after serving time.

In addition to the felony, the paper revealed that his juris doctor dogree from La Salle University in Pennsylvania—at least one of the five degrees listed on his résumé—could not be substantiated since the school has never offered a juris doctor degree.

In an interview with the newspaper, Romero said, degrees and experience aside, he has a good grasp on the multitude of K-12 issues throughout the state.

“Real people ask about real situations and real issues, and they have been asking me a lot, and as far as I know, they are satisfied with my answers,” Romero told the newspaper.

Romero, who withdrew from the race a day after the Independent Mail published its report, told the Charleston Post and Courier, “I am really withdrawing because I do have some illness problems and I’m in treatment and that’s why.”

Candidates for state chief are only required to be 18 years old.

Proponents of a ballot measure to make the state chief appointed by the governor instead of elected have said such minimal qualifications for the job are a hindrance to attracting the best person to lead the state’s department of education.

The education department has been strapped with more and more responsibilities in recent years under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and the state chief is now tasked with setting statewide education initiatives.

But opponents to the measure say voters, not the governor, are best suited to decide who should manage its $1.81 billion K-12 budget, more than half the state’s spending.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.