Battles for State Schools Chief in Full Swing

By Sean Cavanagh — October 21, 2010 1 min read
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Few public officials hold as much sway over education policy as state schools superintendents, who are often the driving force behind major policy changes—or at least expected to turn the grand visions of governors and legislators into reality.

Voters in seven states will get to pick state superintendents on the Nov. 2 ballot. The contests feature incumbent Idaho Republican Tom Luna, a former top aide to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who is being challenged by Democrat Stan Olson, the former superintendent of the Boise Schools. Down in Georgia, it’s a three-way contest between Democrat Joe Martin, Republican John Barge, and Libertarian Kira Griffiths Willis. In neighboring South Carolina, you’ve got Republican Mick Zais doing battle with Democrat Frank Holleman, who some folks might remember worked for former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, who also served as that state’s governor. And in Wyoming, Cindy Hill, who defeated the incumbent office-holder Jim McBride in the GOP primary, faces state Sen. Mike Massie in the general election.

As many EdWeek readers know, in some states, superintendents are appointed directly by the governor. That means other schools chiefs not on the ballot are bound to be affected by the results Nov. 2, with 37 governors’ contests up for grabs.

According to the Education Commission of the States, nine of the 12 states in which governors appoint the superintendent are holding elections this fall. And don’t forget the District of Columbia, where Vincent Gray, who ousted incumbent Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary, will be able to choose a successor of the soon-to-be departing chancellor, Michelle Rhee.

ECS has published a more detailed explanation of the education power structure in the states, which could help you understand the impact of governors’ and superintendents’ elections taking place a couple of weeks from now.

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