The South Carolina Department of Education is the administrative arm of the State Board of Education. The department promulgates and oversees state educational policies for the state’s schools, as well as providing services, technical assistance, and assessments. The agency head is the state superintendent of education. South Carolina is one of only fourteen states that elect the state superintendent, or chief state school officer. The superintendent is responsible for administering school policy and operating the state’s school system. The superintendent is secretary to the State Board of Education, a body of seventeen members appointed by the state legislators and the governor, which acts as the policy-making body for public elementary and secondary education in South Carolina.
The Department of Education was established in 1868 when the General Assembly ratified “An Act to Provide for the Temporary Organization of the Educational Department of the State.” The 1868 constitution provided for an elected state superintendent of education, a school commissioner in each county, and an eventual system of public school districts. Justus K. Jillson, who had come to South Carolina from Massachusetts, was the first state superintendent. One year later the General Assembly passed the School Act of 1869–1870, which established state adoption of textbooks and the examination and certification of teachers.
Throughout the early twentieth century, the Department of Education increasingly sought uniformity and equality of standards throughout the state. The first compulsory attendance law, passed in 1919, required that children aged eight to fourteen attend at least four consecutive months annually. Although the law was not generally enforced for some time, schools grew rapidly in number in the coming years.
As the federal government’s involvement in education policy accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s, the department increasingly took on a role of administering federal funds earmarked for the state in education. In 1966 the department moved into the new fifteen-story Rutledge Building, two blocks from the state capitol. During the last decades of the twentieth century, the department’s programs and services greatly expanded, increasing the scope of its mission. Increased public policy focus on education saw implementation of significant new legislation administered statewide by the department, including the Education Finance Act of 1977, the Education Improvement Act of 1984, and the Education Accountability Act of 1998. In the late 1990s the department took the unprecedented move of taking over a school district, Allendale County, as prescribed by performance standards under statutes.
In the early twenty-first century the Department of Education administered State Board of Education policies in concerns ranging from textbook approval and teacher certification to adoption of education standards and curriculum requirements. The department’s stated policy is to “provide leadership and services to ensure a system of public education through which all students will become educated, responsible, and contributing citizens.”
McDaniel, Thomas R., ed. Public Education in South Carolina: Historical, Political, and Legal Perspectives. Spartanburg, S.C.: Converse College, 1984.
Thomason, John Furman. Foundations of the Public Schools of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1925.