Bill proposes major changes to State Board of Education, including electing members
Posted February 16
Updated February 27
Raleigh, N.C. — A bill filed Thursday by three Republican lawmakers seeks to make major changes to the way the State Board of Education is composed, including electing members instead of appointing them, giving the state superintendent voting rights and removing the state treasurer from the board.
House Bill 133 proposes amending the state constitution so board members are elected by congressional district and serve four-year terms. Under current state law, board members are appointed by the governor, confirmed by the legislature in joint session and serve eight-year terms.
The bill would allow the governor to appoint the school board chair without legislative confirmation. However, the chair would cast votes only in the event of a tie among board members. The bill would also allow the lieutenant governor to continue serving on the board.
When reached Thursday, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said he was not aware of the proposed changes.
"This is news to me. I may have some thoughts once I have a chance to study the bill, but for now, I have no comment," Cobey said.
State board Vice Chairman Buddy Collins said "if the General Assembly has the votes to place this or any other bill amending the Constitution on the ballot, the voters will have the opportunity to debate and consider the merits of such bill."
State board members Eric Davis and Tricia Willoughby had no comment. Emails to the remaining state board members and State Treasurer Dale Folwell were not immediately returned.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Dan Forest did not offer any opinion about the bill.
"This is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of bills that will be filed this session," said Forest spokesman Jamey Falkenbury. "We will monitor it as it moves its way through the legislative process, and when we have a chance, will discuss the bill with the sponsors."
Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, is one of the sponsors of the bill. In a statement, he said the bill will allow voters "to have a voice in the selection of this body, as they currently do with their local board of education. It is a constitutional amendment, so the voters of North Carolina would decide if this is the correct direction to take through referendum."
The bill comes during a tumultuous time for the state board, which is embroiled in a court battle over whether the board or state superintendent should have the ultimate authority over North Carolina's education bureaucracy.
In an interview earlier this month, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said he should have more power because he was elected.
"I was the one who was on the statewide ballot. People went and voted for the office of the state superintendent," he said.
When reached Friday, Johnson released the following statement about the newly filed bill:
"Like most parents and educators, I strongly believe in accountability. North Carolina voters cherish the right to vote for who sets the policy for the state. We vote for everything from soil and water conservation representative our NC Supreme Court justices," Johnson said. "So, yes, I think it makes sense that a group of people setting education policy, who choose to divert taxpayer funds from the classroom to a lawsuit, be held accountable to the voters."
The bill proposes giving the state superintendent voting power and suggests that the superintendent, in addition to voting board members, be the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Elmore, Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, and Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham.