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North Carolina education board proposal revived in House bill

North Carolina General Assembly

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina House committee on Tuesday backed a bill that would shift influence over public education away from the governor and toward the superintendent of public instruction and voters.

The legislation aims to put a constitutional amendment on statewide ballots that could change how the board that sets the state’s public education policy is chosen and who leads it.

Currently, 11 of the 13 voting members of the North Carolina State Board of Education are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly to eight-year terms. And the superintendent of public instruction, who is elected statewide, is the non-voting secretary of the board. The board chairman is chosen by the voting members.

The bill, a similar version of which passed a couple of House committees but went went no further during last year’s session, proposes a constitutional referendum in November 2024 to make the superintendent a board member and its chairman.

And those 11 appointed members would be replaced by members who are elected to overlapping four-year terms from districts established by the General Assembly in time for the 2026 elections. The number of these members would be equal to the seats in North Carolina's U.S. House delegation, which is currently 14. The lieutenant governor and state treasurer would remain voting board members.

Electing board members would give the public more say over the direction of education at a time when interest in how public schools operate is extremely high, said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican and bill sponsor. And he said making the superintendent the board chairman could resolve a longstanding rift within state government over the position's role in education policy.

Some Democratic members of the House K-12 education panel who opposed the measure said it would erode the powers of the governor, who usually campaigns on an education agenda, or could make the board more political by linking them to elections and potential campaigns. Current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper leaves office at the end of 2024.

The committee approved the bill 16-9, with Democratic Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, a committee co-chair, voting yes. The measure now goes to another House committee.

The amendment must be approved by a three-fifths majority of both the House and Senate before it can be placed on the statewide ballot.

Cotham's support could signal success in the House for the measure should all Republicans back it. The GOP's 71-49 majority in the House is one vote shy of a three-fifths majority. The Senate's 30-20 Republican majority is exactly three-fifths.

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