A proposed state constitutional amendment would make members of the North Carolina State Board of Education elected rather than appointed, a move that could shift the political balance of power on the state’s top educational governing body.
According to N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican from Greensboro, the proposed amendment would provide “voters and parents with more influence over our education system. This would promote our objective of allowing parents to have more influence over their child’s education.”
Currently, 11 members of the state board are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. Eight of those members represent each of the state’s eight educational regions, while three are at-large appointments. The lieutenant governor and the state treasurer are ex officio members, and the superintendent of public instruction is a non-voting member.
Democrats control the state board, with only three members appointed by a Republican governor, Pat McCrory. Republicans had four members on the state board until a recent resignation, after which Gov. Roy Cooper appointed John Blackburn to fill the vacancy.
Republicans have added strength from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and State Treasurer Dale Folwell, but still fall short in votes on more partisan issues.
The proposed constitutional amendment, House Bill 1173, would expand the state board membership to 14 seats that correspond to North Carolina’s number of congressional districts. Each member would be elected in their respective congressional district.
In addition to this shift to elections rather than appointments, H.B. 1173 contains another provision that could tip the balance of power on the state board even more — making Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, a Republican, the new chair in addition to an ex officio member, meaning she could vote.
Additionally, the amendment would require that vacancies filled by the governor must be OK’ed by the legislature. As it stands, the governor’s appointments serve until the term of the person they replaced expires.
“A flowchart describing North Carolina’s system of public-school governance resembles a Jackson Pollock painting. And both evoke the same emotional response: bewilderment,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, in commenting on the proposed amendment.
“Gov. James Hunt said it best: ‘The big problem in education and state government today is that the buck doesn’t stop anywhere,’” Stoops added. “Despite seeking to improve public school governance in North Carolina in the 1980s and 1990s, Democrats could not overcome internal policy divisions and thus failed to reform the system in any meaningful way. If Republicans accomplish what Democrats could not, it would be a monumental achievement.”
As with any constitutional amendment, H.B. 1173 faces a high hurdle to pass the legislature. It must garner three-fifths majority support in both the N.C. House and Senate before going to the voters, who may approve it with a simple majority vote.
“If we are able to get this through the General Assembly, I am confident that the voters would approve it,” said Hardister.