Despite Court Ruling, N.C.'s State Chief, Board Still Quibble Over Who’s in Charge

By Daarel Burnette II — June 11, 2018 2 min read
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North Carolina’s Supreme Court Friday ruled as constitutional a 2016 law that gave more power to the state’s elected superintendent to oversee the state’s public schools.

But both the state chief and the state board issued press releases Friday afternoon claiming victory.

In 2016, shortly after Demcrat Roy Cooper beat incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, the GOP-dominated legislature rushed through legislation that placed the state chief over several areas of the state’s education system, including the state’s charter sector, its ESSA plan, and distributing the state’s finances.

The governor-appointed board sued, arguing the power transfer was unconstitutional and an attempt to strip the board of its powers. The board and Mark Johnson, the newly elected Republican superintendent, have been pitted against each other in a legal battle ever since.

Friday’s ruling upheld a lower-court ruling that said it’s not the court’s responsibility to figure out who should oversee what and that the 2016 law was constitutional.

The board’s attorneys Robert Orr and Drew Erteschik said in a statement, “We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, which reaffirms that the State Board of Education—and not the Superintendent of Public Instruction—has the ultimate authority under the Constitution to supervise and administer the state’s public school system. We are also pleased that, while the Court stopped short of invalidating this particular legislation on its face, the Court unanimously declared that the Board has the final say on the mechanics of the relationship between the Board and the Superintendent, as well as how their respective departments will operate internally. Beyond those initial observations, we are continuing to study the Court’s decision.”

Johnson, the state superintendent said in a statement that the ruling “validates the common-sense proposition that the duly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction should lead the Department of Public Instruction. I am looking forward to putting this lawsuit behind us and working with board members to strengthen public education in North Carolina.

“While it is unfortunate that it took more than a year and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to resolve this matter, the positive news is that we will be able to utilize the data-driven analysis to reorganize DPI to help the agency focus on its core mission of supporting educators, students, and parents across North Carolina.”

North Carolina is one of many states in which state board powers are being reconsidered after legislators have aggressively attempted to redesign their accountability systems after the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act and come up with new funding formulas.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.