A conservative think tank CEO who promises to fight critical race theory and supports giving children public money for private school scholarships appears to be a heavy favorite to be elected as the new superintendent of schools in conservative South Carolina in November.

But Ellen Weaver has one major flaw: she lacks a master’s degree, a new requirement for becoming Education Superintendent.

Weaver began working on the advanced degree in April and has stated that she will complete it before the November election. But it’s unclear what will happen if she doesn’t, whether the matter will go to court, and whether this will pave the way for a Democrat to win statewide office in South Carolina for the first time in 18 years.

Weaver appeared unconcerned at her victory party after winning the Republican nomination on Tuesday.

“We saw tonight that voters understand that the true qualification for this job is leadership and a strong backbone.” “Weaver told reporters on Tuesday evening. “Having said that, I will fully fulfill all legal obligations associated with this position. “I plan to finish my master’s degree in educational leadership in October, just in time for the general election.”

Weaver will face Democratic candidate Lisa Ellis, an advanced degree-holding teacher and founder of the education advocacy group SC for Ed. Patricia Mickel, a Green Party candidate, is also on the ballot. She is a teacher, but it is unclear whether she has a master’s degree.

Weaver began her master’s program in educational leadership in April at Bob Jones University in Greenville, the conservative Christian school where she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science. According to the school’s website, the program takes 12 to 18 months to complete.

The advanced degree requirement dates back to 2018, when voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have appointed the education leader by the governor. In a companion bill, lawmakers also updated the job qualifications.

As a result, the superintendent position will be on the ballot again in 2022. Candidates must now have a master’s degree as well as “broad-based experience” in public education as a teacher, administrator, school board member or policy making body, or operational and financial management “in any field of expertise.”

The new qualifications were posted on the South Carolina Election Commission’s website, but they received little attention until a story in The Post and Courier a day after the filing period ended. Several candidates dropped out, while others, such as Weaver, vowed to complete their advanced degrees.

Parties certify that candidates are qualified for office for primaries, and Republicans said pledging to obtain an advanced degree before the general election was sufficient.

In addition to the qualification question, Ellis’ campaign stated that experience is important. Unlike Weaver, the Democrat has spent time in the classroom and in administration, according to spokesperson Leesa Danzek.

If Weaver obtains her master’s degree before statewide officers are inaugurated shortly after the November elections, there will be no legal question about her eligibility, according to attorney Kevin Hall, who has served as the state Republican Party’s legal counsel.

No one has yet sued Weaver for her qualifications, but both her degree and experience could be called into question. Weaver has no teaching or administrative experience, and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee she oversees does not make policy. She worked for former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint before becoming president of his think tank, the Palmetto Promise Institute.

Concerning Weaver’s experience, Hall pointed out that the code requires extensive background in “any field of expertise.” Hall stated that Weaver’s experience as president of the Palmetto Promise Institute “speaks for itself.””

With debates over COVID-19 classroom policies and conservative outrage over so-called “critical race theory,” South Carolina’s education superintendent race has featured themes seen across the country.”

Patrick Kelly, the Palmetto State Teachers Association’s director of government affairs, expressed disappointment with the “abysmally low voter turnout” and nationalization of the primaries.

Only 17% of South Carolina voters participated in the June 14 primary, in which both parties chose their superintendent nominees. In the runoff involving Weaver two weeks later, participation fell to 7%, according the state Election Commission data.