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Who’s making state-level education decisions?

The governance and policymaking of education in North Carolina is comprised of many bodies and decision-makers. Who exactly is in charge is a question that has been argued in court over the last year. Gov. Roy Cooper, in a short interview with EducationNC, expressed his view on what can feel like a disjointed system.

“We got a tall order in our state,” Cooper said. “We have a system of governance in education in our state that doesn’t work too well with an independently elected superintendent, an independently elected governor, an appointed state board of education and elected legislature. We need issues that can bind us together and education is an area where this can happen.”

We at EducationNC know things can get confusing. As the long session gets under way and issues from teacher licensure to municipal charter schools are studied and debated, let’s take a look at the leadership and groups working on state education policy. Here’s who is in charge and what has been going on with the state’s committees, commissions, and councils studying issues impacting schools, students, and communities. 

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.

Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education

Gov. Roy Cooper appointed a commission that first met in November 2017 comprised of cross-sector leaders to study how the state could meet its constitutional mandate to provide every child in the state with equal educational opportunity. The state Supreme Court ruled the state was not upholding the duty of providing each student with a “sound, basic education” in the decades-long and ongoing Leandro lawsuit. The legal battle started in 1994 when families from five low-wealth counties sued the state, stating their children were not receiving an education equal in quality to the one students in wealthier districts were receiving.

Through an executive order in the summer of 2017, Cooper created the Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education, which has 18 members with expertise from health to law to different segments of the education continuum. The board is chaired by Brad Wilson, former CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. 

In meetings since, the commission has heard presentations and discussed education issues across the spectrum: the structure and gaps in school funding in February and Aprilthe importance of early childhood education in June, the principal pipeline in October, teacher preparation and recruitment in December, and the roles and challenges of school support personnel this month (January 2019).

The commission also broke into five subcommittees to study specific education topics in meetings outside of the full commission meetings: finance and resources, led by Jim Deal; teachers, led by Leslie Winner; principals, led by Patrick Miller; early childhood/whole child, led by Henrietta Zalkind; and assessments, led by Melody Chambers.

In the commission’s first meeting, Wilson said the commission’s focus is on the “how” of the three components a 2002 ruling deemed necessary to fulfill the state’s constitutional duty:

  1. Staffing each classroom with a competent, well-trained teacher. 
  2. Staffing each school with a competent, well-trained principal.
  3. Identifying the resources necessary to ensure that all children, including those at-risk, have an equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education. 

The commission’s next meetings are on Feb. 27, March 12, March 21, and April 11. The commission, according to the executive order, must meet at least quarterly. Reports from the commission and an independent consultant are intended to help the lawsuit’s parties draft a consent order for the court’s consideration.


myFutureNC, a cross-sector group with representatives from business, health, education, and philanthropy, is studying North Carolina’s educational continuum. The group is led by three co-chairs — Community College System President Peter Hans, Bank of America Chief Administrative Officer Andrea Smith, and Medical Mutual Holdings Chief Executive Officer Dale Jenkins — along with a steering committee of 10 other individuals.

The commission’s work in 2018 focused around setting a postsecondary attainment goal, as North Carolina is one of only five states without one. The group has been holding listening sessions for public input across the state, as well as meetings of the full commission to address stop-outs in the educational continuum. In February, the commission met in Winston-Salem to hear about “loss points” along the educational continuum, where students stop in the process of postsecondary attainment. In its June meeting, commission members set important education-to-workforce milestones in Cary and acknowledged barriers to those milestones. The commission also met in October in Asheville and in December in Charlotte. The commission will release their findings on Feb. 20 with an aim to engage local communities throughout this year. 

The John M. Belk Endowment, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Goodnight Education Foundation fund the commission. The commission is broken into three committees that total 45 members. Each committee — P-12, postsecondary, and workforce — also has subject matter experts. 

Check out the commission’s website here and all the materials from the commission’s process here. EducationNC’s Reach NC Voices project assisted with the facilitation of the listening sessions, and EducationNC CEO Mebane Rash is a subject matter expert on the P-12 committee. 

Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission

Since its 2017 creation from legislation (SB599) opening educator preparation programs and reworking teacher licensure, the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) has met monthly to decide the scope of its work and discuss how the state should prepare and license teachers and hold preparation programs accountable. 

The commission is permanent and reports to the State Board of Education. The group is comprised of 18 members, including eight appointees from each the House and the Senate, and is chaired by Greene County Schools Superintendent Patrick Miller. According to its website, the commission’s work has focused on the following topics:

  • “Residency license model (replacing lateral license model)
  • EPP (educator preparation program) Authorization process and individual licensure area approval process
  • School Administrator Preparation Standards
  • edTPA/PPAT cut scores
  • CTE licensure Policies and Procedures manual updates
  • Supporting the focus on rigorous outcomes data to assess effectiveness
  • Alignment of SB599 with Licensure policy
  • Alignment of SB599 with Educator Preparation policy”

Here is more information on edTPA/PPAT, which assess students on teaching and clinical experience. 

The idea for the commission came from Senate Bill 599, which allowed entities other than institutions of higher education to offer educator preparation programs for the first time. The law tasked the commission with setting standards for those programs and holding them accountable, as well as overseeing all aspects of teacher licensure. 

B-3 Interagency Council

The B-3 Interagency Council, created in the legislature’s budget in 2017 to encourage collaboration between the early childhood and K-12 systems, now has its own website with its meeting materials, members, and specific charge. The council’s main goal is to develop a coordinated birth to third grade system.  

The joint council has representatives from both of the bodies that separately oversee the early childhood and K-12 systems, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). 

In its most recent meeting in December, members discussed recommendations from their work groups, which focus on transitions and continuity, data-driven improvement and outcomes, and teacher and administrator preparation and effectiveness. Though the recommendations do not have specific legislative asks tied to them yet, some of them will likely lead to proposed legislation this session. The recommendations focused on smoothing transitions as children enter kindergarten, analyzing the data sources and systems across early childhood education, and finding ways to bridge teacher standards and licensure across child care, preschool, and early elementary grades.

A report with the group’s final findings is due to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, the Joint Legislative Committee on Health and Human Services, and the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations by Feb. 15, 2019.

The council is comprised of 12 voting members, including four members appointed by both the House and Senate. DHHS Deputy Secretary of Human Services Susan Perry-Manning and DPI Associate Superintendent of Early Education Pamela Shue co-chair the council. Both Superintendent Mark Johnson and Secretary Mandy Cohen serve as ex-officio members with voting privileges. Two members of both the House and Senate also serve in nonvoting advisory roles.

Early Childhood Advisory Council

Gov. Cooper created the Early Childhood Advisory Council through an executive order in February 2018 and appointed 24 members to the council, which is required in each state by federal law. In December, the council discussed a business initiative called Family Forward NC, which promotes workplace environments that lead to young children’s wellbeing and economic development. The council also heard from DHHS leaders about its draft Early Childhood Action Plan, which is currently being revised and will be released in February. 

The plan was created in response to a different executive order from the governor in August 2018 and is meant to set a coordinated early childhood vision for the state. The draft version has 10 goals around children’s physical health, the health and stability of their families and communities, and their learning and school readiness. A copy of the draft is below.

According to the press release on the reauthorization of the council in February 2018, the council’s priorities include:

  • “Creating and guiding a bold early childhood action plan that aligns with other efforts to advance the state’s early childhood system.
  • Building awareness of the importance of high-quality early childhood experiences to future education and career success to ensure young children in North Carolina are learning and thriving.
  • Recommending and advocating for policies and funding that improve equitable access to high-quality early childhood services and better outcomes for young children and families.”

Child Fatality Task Force

The Child Fatality Task Force is a permanent body, formed in 1991, that makes recommendations to the governor and legislature on issues affecting the wellbeing of the state’s children. The task force is broken into subcommittees on perinatal health, unintentional death, and intentional death. The group looks at issues from youth suicide to vehicle-related injuries to infant mortality.

Its action agenda for the year includes pushing for suicide prevention training for school staff, a firearm safety initiative, a school social worker consultant at DPI, youth nicotine prevention around e-cigarette use, and the safe surrender of infants at-risk of abandonment or harm, among other items.

The task force has 35 members, including four appointed by the governor, 10 by each the House and Senate, and 11 ex-officio members of the state government. The group meets two to four times a year between legislative sessions.

Email to receive meeting notices and updates on the task force’s work.

Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

The Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform was first created in 2017 as a temporary task force to study the possibility of changing how the state funds schools. The group heard presentations on the current funding model, which uses allotments granted for specific purposes. That amount is determined by the district’s average daily membership (ADM), with supplemental funding added based on certain district needs. Part of the task force’s mission was to create a different finance structure based on a weighted student formula, which would allocate money for each individual student and his or her needs.

The task force was chaired by Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, but it is unclear who will chair the committee this session. Sen. Lee lost his seat in the 2018 election. Besides the chairs, there are eight House and eight Senate appointees with voting powers. There is also one advisory task force member from the House.

In meetings last year, the task force looked at how charter schools are funded in February and March and how different funding models would affect schools.

The task force’s deadline for its final report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee was moved from Oct. 1, 2018 to Oct. 1, 2019. Go here to sign up for meeting notices via email.

Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee

The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, which reports to the legislature and meets between legislative sessions, is comprised of legislators from both the House and the Senate. The committee looks at a variety of education issues and met seven times between the 2017 and 2018 sessions. Its report to the legislature on those meetings and recommendations can be found here.

Already in 2019 the committee has received reports on school connectivity, reading improvement, the progress of the Innovative School District, testing reductions, and more, though it has not yet met this year.

The committee is co-chaired by Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union and Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus and includes 11 voting members besides the chairs and three vice-chairs.

Its meeting history has fluctuated from year to year. In 2016-17, the committee did not meet at all and did not submit a report to the legislature. In 2015-16, the committee met only once. 

Go here to receive meeting notices via email.

State Board of Community Colleges

The State Board of Community Colleges oversees the state’s 58 community colleges. The board is responsible for creating a plan for the entire system at least every two years and assigning community colleges to certain regions.

2018 was a busy year for the community college system, with Peter Hans becoming the new system president. The board addressed a multitude of issues from Hurricane Florence recovery to changing workforce demands to issues with the system’s Residency Determination Service (RDS)

Scott Shook chairs the board and Jim Rose serves as the board’s vice chair. The board consists of ten gubernatorial appointees, and four representatives appointed by each the House and Senate. There are also three ex-officio members — Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, and non-voting student Toni Formato — and 16 “non-members” representing different community colleges. 

The board will meet next on Feb. 14 and 15.

Board of Postsecondary Education Credentials

Created by the General Assembly in 2017, the Board of Postsecondary Education Credentials, chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, has the responsibility of ensuring the state’s workforce has the right skills to fill labor demands. According to statute, the board should ensure the appropriate percentage of citizens have the postsecondary credentials needed to fill industry demands by 2025. 

In its October meeting, the board heard of the state’s credential and certificate offerings and employers’ needs and projections. 

The Community Colleges System Office is the board’s home. It is made up of nine members other than the lieutenant governor from sectors across education, health, and business. Among its responsibilities is recommending what educational opportunities are needed through the state’s postsecondary options for individuals of all ages and stages of life.

The board, according to law, “shall identify alternative ways in which people gain valuable workforce skills and experience, such as on‑the‑job training, that are not represented by four‑year or two‑year degrees and the types of credentials used to signify competence of a certain level upon successful completion of the alternative training experience.”

A report from the board is due to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee by March 2019. Its next meeting is Feb. 5, 2019.

Charter Schools Advisory Board

The Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB) oversees the state’s 183 charter schools. The board makes recommendations to the State Board of Education on potential charter schools, the renewal of current charters, and the schools’ performance. This year, 35 new schools have applied to open in 2020-21.

The board meets monthly and has an application and interview process for new charter schools. CSAB also makes recommendations to close charter schools when necessary.

There has been an increase in charter schools from 98 schools with about 38,000 students in 2011 to 183 charter schools serving more than 100,000 students in 2019.

Alex Quigley is the chair of the board, which is comprised of 11 other voting members — four appointed by the House, four by the Senate, two by the State Board, and one by the lieutenant governor — along with one non-voting superintendent. 

Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on the North Carolina State Lottery

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on the North Carolina State Lottery is a permanent bipartisan group of legislators that has been meeting since 2016 and examining the state lottery. The committee makes recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve the lottery’s effectiveness.

In its most recent meeting in February 2018, a presentation was shared on the lottery’s oversight and ways to increase revenue to education through digital players.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, and Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph and also includes 12 other voting members and two non-voting members, half of which were appointed by the House and half by the Senate. Its task is to study the “administration, budgeting, and policies of the lottery.”

Go here to sign up for meeting notices via email.

Editor’s Note: The NC Center for Public Policy Research has a contract with James Ford’s consulting company, Filling the Gap Education Consultants, LLC,  to conduct a three-year study of inequity in education across North Carolina. EducationNC receives funding from the John M. Belk Endowment, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Goodnight Education Foundation.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of gubernatorial appointees on the State Board of Community Colleges and the student representative on the board. The Governor appoints ten of the board’s members and the student representative is Toni Formato. 

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of charter schools in North Carolina and the composition of the Charter Schools Advisory Board. 

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.