State Superintendent would lead an elected State Board of Education under House proposal

Published January 26, 2023

By Greg Childress

Some state Board of Education (SBE) members would be elected, and the state superintendent would chair the SBE under House Bill 17, which was filed in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, who has frequently stated his preference for an elected state board that would be led by the state superintendent.

“In that way, you don’t end up with this sort of double-headed situation that we’ve got currently,” Blackwell said a year ago.

Blackwell is a co-chair of the House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future. The committee has spent the past year traveling across the state, holding public hearings and studying ways to reinvent North Carolina’s system of public education.

The two-pronged approach to governing the state’s public schools to which Blackwell referred has sometimes led to conflict between the state superintendent and the state board.

A power grab by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2016 led to a lengthy legal battle that ended with the state Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of then-House Bill 17, which rearranged the responsibilities of the superintendent and transferred certain powers of the state board to the superintendent.

The chair of the state board can set the board’s agenda and influence policy decisions. Superintendent Catherine Truitt, for example, is a Republican and her positions don’t always align with state board members appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

Under HB 17, all state board members except Council of State appointees – the lieutenant governor and state treasurer – would be elected from districts established by the General Assembly. The governor would appoint members to fill board vacancies.

Changing how the state board is seated would require voters to approve a constitutional amendment. The bill calls for the amendment to be placed on the Nov. 5, 2024 ballot, which includes the presidential election.

North Carolina now elects a state superintendent every four years who acts as the secretary and chief administrative officer of the state board. The superintendent administers all “needed rules and regulations” adopted by the State Board through the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Meanwhile, the state board is led by one of 11 members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. It is required by the state constitution to “supervise and administer” the public schools and funding “provided for its support.” The board also makes “rules and regulations” by which the public schools are governed.