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NC Supreme Court To Hear State Board Of Education vs. State Superintendent

N.C. Supreme Court Building
Dave DeWitt
N.C. Supreme Court Building

The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear a case Wednesday over a power struggle between Republican State Superintendent Mark Johnson and the Republican-led State Board of Education. Shortly after Johnson's election in 2016, the General Assembly passed a law to shift powers from the governor-appointed board to the superintendent. This is, however, not a partisan battle. Superintendent Johnson, all legislators who filed the bill proposing the transfer of power, and a majority of the members of the State Board of Education are all Republicans. However, Johnson has been more closely aligned with the Legislature on education policy than the governor-appointed board.

The powers that General Assembly have attempted to transfer to Johnson include ultimate control over the $10 billion budget for public schools, advisory appointments on the State Board of Education, and hiring of staff at the Department of Public Instruction.

State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson
Credit NC Public Schools
State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson

The State Board of Education argues those changes could only be made by a constitutional amendment, which requires a statewide referendum by voters. Johnson's attorneys will argue that the constitution also says the board is subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly. Johnson has further argued that he was duly elected by voters to lead the state's education policy. 

A three-judge panel at a lower court sided with Johnson in June, and the State Board of Education bypassed an appeal process to take the case directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The school board's attorneys argue that the issue has greater significance than the present conflict over control of the Department of Public Instruction. The State Board of Education's attorney Robert Orr has argued that if the Supreme Court overrules the law, it would set a dangerous precedent of allowing the General Assembly to reassign constitutional powers.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will also hear the case of whether the State Board of Education has to submit rules it adopts for approval by the Rules Review Commission. That panel reviews rules of most state agencies to insure they don't overstep their authority.

It's unclear exactly when the court will release decisions in these cases.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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