Interview with Brent Nelsen, candidate for state superintendent of education

Sorry to be several days late with this; I’m finding that I’m so busy during the week that I have to wait for the weekend to actually post the stuff I gather, through interviews and covering events, during the week.

In the video clip above you’ll hear Brent Nelsen, a Furman political science professor who’s running for state superintendent of education, talking about his three top issues. It’s unedited except for a bit where I come on as narrator and explain that, having led him on a brief digression about his academic field, I cut out an even longer digression where I started telling him about a movie I saw. These things happen with me in interviews, and there’s no point tormenting my readers with them.

The video clip is a little noisy — I shot it at the Gervais Street Starbucks between 4 and 5 Thursday afternoon — but you should be able to hear him fairly clearly. Anyway, his top three areas of interest, which he explains more thoroughly on the video, are:

  1. He wants to bolster and increase the availability of public school choices.
  2. He wants to deregulate classrooms, to give teachers and principals more room to be creative and innovative.
  3. He sees education as a parnership between the state and communities, with families playing an important role as well.

After that last point I said he was sounding kind of communitarian, and I think maybe he thought that was a bad thing coming from me (when, as you know, it’s high praise), so he immediately said that there are significant market elements to his plans, such as pay-for-performance (which I support as well, so that doesn’t get him off the hook on being communitarian).

So I asked him about the one issue that has warped recent superintendent elections. Noting that he was stressing public school choice, I asked him about the private — about tuition tax credits and vouchers and the like.

“I want to solve problems in failing districts,” he said, meaning that he wants to exhaust public remedies first. Actually, not so much all public remedies — he wants to try public school choice first.

Then, rather than tuition tax credits or vouchers, he would allow for scholarship programs to private alternatives. The money for the scholarship programs would come from private sources, which would get tax breaks. You may recall that was an element of some of the voucher bills of recent years.

A word about public school choice. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s rather limited as a “solution.” I think most forms of public school choice are fine and dandy to experiment with. But as an alternative to fixing the problem schools, the concept bothers me. Fine, say I, give kids an alternative. But don’t act like you’ve solved the problem, if there’s still a messed-up school that the kid is transferring away from. Fix the problem; don’t waste money continuing to operate the failed school AND the alternative.

So I challenged Mr. Nelsen on that point, and he said he wouldn’t just abandon the failed schools. He would want to set up Rapid Reaction Teams of top educators to go into such schools and fix them.

You may recall that Mr. Nelsen toyed briefly with the idea of running for governor before deciding to aim for superintendent. He is running, by the way, as a Republican — as are Kelly Payne, Mick Zais, Elizabeth Moffly and Gary Burgess. Frank Holleman is the lone Democrat. So far, no UnParty candidates.

Oh, one last thing: Sorry about having misspelled his name the other day. I’ve corrected it now.

Nelsen smiling

11 thoughts on “Interview with Brent Nelsen, candidate for state superintendent of education

  1. Brad Warthen

    How committed to accuracy are we here at This committed: After spending a couple of hours Sunday editing the above video, then saving it to a file (a lengthy process in itself, now that I’m using a camera that shoots higher-res video), and uploading it to YouTube (an even LONGER process with a file this size)… and then I suddenly realized that I had misspelled Dr. Nelsen’s name, again, on the title intro and in the credits of the video.

    So I did it all over again.

    But admittedly, I watched TV with the wife during part of the process… we saw Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” on PBS. Which is cool because the male lead is a post captain in the Royal Navy who’s made a fortune in prize money

  2. Brad Warthen

    … although I sort of wish Miss Austen had included some scenes in which he was boarding and taking enemy ships, or perhaps a fat merchantman or two, and left out some of the mushy stuff.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Jason Greer of Brent Nelsen’s campaign just shared with me this assessment of this post from the candidate himself:

    “The interview is very fair. The picture is a bit odd, but pretty good overall. BN”

    As for the picture: I had four still shots — two candid, two where he was self-consciously smiling at the camera. The two candids were almost identical, and I used one of them on this earlier post. That left me with a smiley one for this post…

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    getting parents involved s hardly communitarian–it’s fee-for-service thinking that is anti-communitarian. Getting the whole darn village involved–that’s communitarian, and eschewing any public funding of private education that parents are welcome to tailor to their hearts/wallets’ delight, so long as it meets whatever educational minimums we as a “village” set—there is a mandate to educate one’s children, after all.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Oh, I’m so sorry! I fully intended to include Gen. Zais on that list. I even had him in my notes. Something must have distracted me when I was typing that. (Actually, something is always distracting me, but usually I don’t slip up like this as a result.)

    I have addressed the omission above.

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