Community Colleges News

Who’s making state-level education decisions?

The General Assembly often passes legislation related to education and is back for its long session this week. The House and Senate have Republican majorities, which has been the case since 2011. The House is led by Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican representing Cleveland County, who was selected as speaker in 2015. The Senate is led by President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a Republican representing Caswell, Rockingham, Stokes, and Surry Counties. Berger has led the Senate since 2011. When it comes to education, the Republican leadership has focused on raising teacher and administrator compensation, expanding school choice throughout the education system, and, this year, addressing school infrastructure of aging buildings.

Though both legislative chambers have Republican majorities, the 2018 election handed some seats to Democrats and broke the Republican supermajority, meaning Republicans can no longer override gubernatorial vetoes without Democrats’ help. It is unclear what this dynamic will mean for this session. 

“It will be gridlock, or the more narrow majority will force collaboration,” said Rep. Josh Dobson, R-Avery. “I hope it’s the latter.”

Both the House and Senate have standing committees on education, where education-related bills are often proposed and debated. Chairing the Senate education committee this session are Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-WataugaSen. Rick Horner, R-Nash; and Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

The House has education committees specific to different sections of the education continuum. Rep. John Sauls, R-Lee, will chair the House education committee on community colleges. Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union; and Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, will chair the House K-12 education committee.

Gov. Cooper, elected in 2016, is a Democrat from Nash County. He is in the third year of his four-year term. Along with releasing a budget each year with legislative priorities, Cooper impacts education issues through his commission studying the decades-long Leandro lawsuit, his education cabinet, and executive orders, among other initiatives. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, first elected in 2016, is head of the state Department of Public Instruction and sits on the State Board of Education. His win over Democratic incumbent June Atkinson meant a new education leader with a new vision. Johnson went on to join the state in a legal battle over leadership of the state’s schools with the State Board of Education. After December 2016 legislation gave powers traditionally held by the State Board to the superintendent, the State Board sued the state. In June 2018, the state and Johnson won, with the state Supreme Court ruling that the legislation did not change the board’s constitutional authority — that the board is still responsible for general supervision of the school system, while the superintendent is in control of its day-to-day operations. 

The State Board of Education has gone through recent changes in both leadership and membership. Four members, including former chair Bill Cobey, announced their resignations from the board in 2018. The board chose Eric Davis, who was already a board member, as its new chair.

Vice chair A.L. “Buddy” Collins stepped down in March 2018 to run for a county commissioner spot in Forsyth County. Gov. Cooper appointed Alan Duncan, who now serves as vice chair, to replace Collins. Becky Taylor, Greg Alcorn, and Bill Cobey all stepped down last September. Gov. Cooper has since appointed three new members to fill those vacancies: J.B. Buxton, Jill Camnitz, and James Ford. The new members do not have to receive confirmation from the legislature while finishing the terms of their incumbents. 

For a more detailed look at membership changes, check out Alex Granados’s article from August.

About the author

Liz Bell is a reporter for EducationNC. She grew up in Hickory and went to Fred T. Foard High School. Liz is a recent graduate from the School of Media and Journalism at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a minor in Hispanic Studies. She has previously written for The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, and The News and Observer.… Read full bio »

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