NC bill to make State Board of Education elected -- not appointed -- passes committee

Members favoring it cast an elected board as more democratic than the current system, while those opposing it questioned whether it would expose the state's education system to even greater political influence.

Posted Updated
Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke
Emily Walkenhorst
, WRAL education reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill that seeks to make the North Carolina State Board of Education an elected body — rather than appointed — passed through a key state House of Representatives committee Tuesday.
House Bill 17, if adopted into law, would ultimately put the question before North Carolina voters in 2024: Would they like to amend the state’s Constitution to make the board elected and to make the state Superintendent the voting chairman of it?

The House Education Committee approved the bill on a 16-9 vote. Members favoring it cast an elected board as more democratic than the current system, while those opposing it questioned whether it would expose the state’s education system to even greater political influence.

The bill now heads to the House Rules Committee, which must pass it before it can be moved on to the full House and then the same steps in the state Senate.

The governor currently has the power to appoint 11 of the 14 board members, with the approval of the North Carolina General Assembly. Most of the current board members have been appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democra, though a few are appointees of former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.

Appointees serve eight-year terms. The elected state superintendent, state lieutenant governor and state treasurer also serve, though only the lieutenant governor and treasurer are voting members.

Lawmakers must approve of every governor appointment, and they have not always done so.

For the General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment before voters, at least 60% of the House and at least 60% of the Senate — among those present — would have to vote to do so.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said education is already a politicized topic. Electing board members would not change that, he said, but would require board members to engage in party politics.

“Frankly I think it ought to be partisan,” Blackwell said.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, voted against the bill, arguing that the governor thoughtfully picks board members that already must be approved by the General Assembly.

“I’m very worried about taking away that responsibility of the governor, putting it into another partisan political race.”

According to legislative staff, North Carolina is one of nine states that elects its superintendent and appoints its State Board of Education. Some states appoint both or elect one but not the other. If the proposed Constitutional amendment passed, it would be the only one to elect both the state’s education executive and its State Board of Education members.

A nearly identical bill passed through the House last summer during a shortened session. The bill was sent back to committee after Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the Senate would likely not take up the bill in the remaining days of the session.

This year’s version of the bill states that board members would be elected from 14 different districts that will be drawn by lawmakers.

Blackwell has filed the legislation each time.

He said the change to electing board members would more clearly establish the relationship between the board and the superintendent.

Currently, the state superintendent, who is elected, leads the states’s Department of Public Instruction. The department runs the state’s education system, oversees schools and manages and initiates certain programs. The superintendent is the State Board of Education’s secretary and a nonvoting member.

The State Board of Education sets policies for schools, in accordance with state and federal laws, approves the department’s recommended subject standards, and carries out certain administrative duties, such as deciding whether to open or close charter schools based on reviews.

Blackwell’s proposal would make the superintendent both the chairman of the board, on top of being the leader of the Department of Public Instruction.

In 2021, state conservative leaders expressed concerns with the State Board of Education’s approval of new social studies standards. Department of Public Instruction staff had written them and proposed them to the board. Some board members thought the standards focused on too many negative parts of history, while other board members felt the standards told history from a more diverse perspective. Ultimately, they passed on a 7-5 vote, with Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s appointees voting in favor and Republican members voting against it.

CLARIFICATION: Governors can't sign or veto bills that put a constitutional amendment before voters. An earlier version of this article suggested Cooper could consider the bill.


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