Longleaf Politics | The latest major court ruling stemming from the General Assembly’s infamous 2016 “power grab”1came on Friday, as the N.C. Supreme Court settled a battle between the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education over direct control of the public school system.
Both the state superintendent and the Board of Education declared victory after the decision. But the ruling is very clearly in favor of the General Assembly and the elected superintendent.
As it turns out, sometimes even a power grab results in clearer public policy.
What was the lawsuit about?
Let’s start all the way at the beginning: the state constitution. It sets up two distinct bodies tasked with public education.
The State Board of Education is directed to “supervise and administer the free public school system.” The Superintendent of Public Instruction, elected statewide every four years, is to “be the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.”
There’s not a whole lot of direction as to how this is to work in practice. That’s mostly been left to the General Assembly, and over the years the pendulum of duties has swung back and forth.
Once it became clear that Cooper would be the new governor, with the right to appoint State Board of Education members, the state legislature decided to tweak the responsibilities of the board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 34-year-old Republican Mark Johnson.
Some of the changes are more technical. Instead of the State Board of Education being in charge of establishing “policy,” it became responsible for “all needed rules and regulations” for North Carolina’s public schools.
The more substantive changes come to the superintendent role. Previously, the job was to run the day-to-day operations of the public school infrastructure “subject to the direction, control, and approval of the State Board.” That phrasing was removed in several places.
While the board remains the policymaking body, the superintendent now has clear responsibility for running the department.