Who should pick NC Board of Education members? Legislation would let voters decide.

Public School Forum of North Carolina

A proposal to change how State Board of Education members are chosen is being called both an effort to give more power to voters and an effort to weaken the governor’s power.

Republican lawmakers in the North Carolina House K-12 Education Committee backed legislation Tuesday to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to elect state board members instead of having them remain nominated by the governor. House Bill 17 would also place the state superintendent of public instruction as the board chairperson.

“We would go to a system In which the public — parents and citizens — would have the choice to say this is the person who we want to support for the position on the State Board of Education because we feel their views about education policymaking are more in line with what we think ought to be there,” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Blackwell said there are 10 states that elect all or a majority of their state board of education members.

Weaken the governor?

The legislation comes at a time when the state board has a Democratic majority because of multiple appointments by Gov. Roy Cooper. Democratic lawmakers raised concerns that the change would weaken the power of the governor on education issues.

“I think the governor looks across the state to these districts to find the best educational leaders he can with the confirmation of the General Assembly,” said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat. “I’m very worried about taking away that responsibility of the governor, putting it into another partisan political race.”

Similar legislation was filed last year and also backed by the House Education Committee. But the legislation didn’t make it to the House floor.

However, the legislation could have an easier time passing this year.

Since it’s proposing a change to the Constitution, it would require a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate to pass. Republicans have enough votes in the Senate and are only one vote short in the House this year.

Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Charlotte Democrat, crossed party lines on Tuesday to join Republicans in voting 16-9 to approve the bill.

Shift to GOP majority on board?

Court battles by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt’s predecessors have established that the superintendent is in charge of overseeing day-to-day operations of public schools. This includes running the state Department of Public Instruction.

The state board is charged with setting education policy, adopting curriculum standards and deciding on which charter schools to approve.

“If the voters are going to elect a superintendent of public instruction, doesn’t it make sense to let that individual during their term of office be the head of the State Board of Education?” Blackwell said.

The state board now consists of the lieutenant governor, treasurer and 11 members who are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly.

The legislation would keep the lieutenant governor and treasurer as state board members while also adding the state superintendent as a voting member. All three elected positions are currently held by Republicans.

The bill would also change the Constitution so that the number of board seats would be based on the number of the state’s Congressional seats.

North Carolina has 14 Congressional districts, evenly split between seven Democrats and seven Republicans.

The seats not belonging to the lieutenant governor, treasurer and superintendent would be elected to 4-year, staggered terms in districts drawn up state lawmakers. Blackwell said he hopes the districts would be made partisan seats.

If the amendment is passed, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2026 and apply to terms for state board starting Jan. 1, 2027.

“Anytime you can try to make something get closer to the people, where they can place a vote to be able to send that representation down I think is positive,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican.