State education board appeals DPI ruling

By: Lindsay Marchello - Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — The State Board of Education isn’t finished fighting N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson in court.

A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled last week in favor of Johnson, but the board is appealing that decision.

In a special session last year, a law was passed shifting power from the Republican-led State Board of Education to the newly elected Johnson. The law gave Johnson, also a Republican, more flexibility with the state education budget, greater authority to dismiss higher-up employees, control over the Office of Charter Schools, and the ability to appoint the head of the Innovative School District.

Board members claimed the move was unconstitutional and filed a lawsuit. But the court ruled “the State Board has failed to satisfy its burden of proof as to the facial unconstitutionality of any provision of the statute.”

State Board chairman Bill Cobey explained plans to take the bypass provision directly to the N.C. Supreme Court.

“We think this is such an important constitutional issue that we’re hoping it will be dealt with expeditiously,” Cobey told WRAL-TV.

North Carolina GOP Vice Chairman Michele Nix had strong words about Cobey’s plan to continue fighting in court.

“With today’s announcement that they will continue to waste taxpayer dollars on their frivolous lawsuit, it is clear they would rather have a fiefdom with Democrats instead of real education reform with Republicans,” Nix said.

Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said this is a lingering issue over the division of power between the Department of Public Instruction and the state board.

“The decision from the three-judge panel acknowledged that the State Board of Education has the bulk of authority in overseeing North Carolina public schools,” Stoops said, “but they failed to identify where that authority ends and begins in relations to the superintendent of public instruction.”

Stoops argued the problem will remain unless voters pass a constitutional amendment clearly defining the roles of the superintendent and the State Board of Education.

“There’s a lot of different configurations of ways to solve some of the problems created by the ambiguity of the constitutional provision defining the offices,” Stoops said, but added elected officials should not completely overhaul the education system simply because board members and DPI can’t get along. “We have to examine the circumstances of our state and our governance model and find ways to improve it, not just find a wholesale replacement.”

Lindsay Marchello is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.

Lindsay Marchello

Carolina Journal