COLUMBIA - Democrat Jim Rex and Republican Karen Floyd differ sharply on most every aspect of their approach to education to lead the state's public schools.
Both candidates for education superintendent say South Carolina's schools need to improve. But their suggestions for reaching that goal come from very different directions.
Mr. Rex says his more than 30 years as an educator, college administrator and a stint as a football coach helps him know what South Carolina's students and teachers need and will make him a better reformer.
Ms. Floyd says her background as a businesswoman, former magistrate and former Spartanburg County councilwoman has her ready to run the state Education Department, even though she has never been an educator. She says she has two sons in public school, which helps her understand educational issues.
The office is open because Democrat Inez Tenenbaum is stepping down after two terms. She has endorsed Mr. Rex, who was asked to run by former Democratic Gov. Richard Riley, who served as U.S. secretary of education under President Clinton.
Ms. Floyd, who announced she was running in April 2005, was endorsed by Gov. Mark Sanford and many other top GOP elected officials before the Republican primary in June.
The sharpest exchanges between the two candidates have come on whether South Carolina should offer vouchers, tax credits or some other form of assistance to help families choose the schools their children attend.
Ms. Floyd has said she backs expanding school choice for parents. She said she wants to talk to a spectrum of people to figure out how best to do that if she is elected.
"My idea of choice is providing as many options for parents as possible," Ms. Floyd has said. "I think it's complete hypocrisy that any parent, particularly parents in great schools, can say to a parent in an underserved area that you don't have any choices."
Ms. Floyd has said she does not support giving public dollars to private schools. Instead, she says she wants to give the money back to parents, allowing them to choose the best school for their children - be it public or private.
Mr. Rex says Ms. Floyd's position is misleading. He says he opposes a voucher plan. It doesn't matter whether parents are the middleman or the state is - that kind of program amounts to giving public money to private schools, he said.
Mr. Rex says he backs school choice, but within a public school system by giving alternatives such as charter schools.
The two candidates also have differed on how to deal with violence in schools.
Ms. Floyd says she backs using cameras in classrooms and following a "zero-tolerance" policy for violent acts in schools. She also has proposed linking classroom attendance and behavior to a student's right to drive.
Mr. Rex says he also backs a "zero tolerance" approach concerning school violence, but that teachers also should be given more training in management to help them deal with discipline.
Teachers also need clear guidelines and more support from parents, administrators and school boards when they must discipline students, Mr. Rex has said.
BORN: Aug. 14, 1962
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in political science from Goucher College in Towson, Md.; law degree from the University of South Carolina
CAREER: CEO of the Palladian Group, a Spartanburg marketing, development and technology firm
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Served as chairwoman of the Spartanburg County Council 1998-2002
PERSONAL: Married, with twin sons
BORN: Nov. 21, 1941, in Toledo, Ohio
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in English; master's degree in education administration; doctorate degree in curriculum and instruction, all from the University of Toledo
CAREER: Former president of Columbia College; English teacher and football coach in Ohio; associate professor and dean of education at Coastal Carolina University; professor and dean of education at Winthrop University; vice president for university advancement at the University of South Carolina; vice president for development and alumnae relations at Columbia College
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None
PERSONAL: Married, four children.
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