Commentary

Major newspapers agree: GOP education takeover is unconstitutional

Incoming DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

Incoming DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

Today’s court hearing on the challenge to the legislative attempt to seize control of the state’s public education system from the state Board of Education and vest it all in the over-matched hands of the state’s woefully inexperienced new Superintendent of Public Instruction has been postponed at the request of the defendants, but there should be no doubt about the ultimate outcome according to the state’s major newspapers. This morning, the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer joined the Greensboro News & Record and Raleigh’s News & Observer (among others) in condemning the scheme.

Here’s the Observer:

“…on public schools, the Constitution is clear: The General Assembly crafts laws involving education policy. The State School Board, not the Superintendent, is in charge of making and administering rules and regulations within those laws.

We hope and expect the courts to strike down most, if not all, of House Bill 17. It would be far from the first time that judges have had to remind Republican lawmakers of the limits of their power.”

And here’s the N&R on Tuesday of this week:

“This [the legislative takeover attempt] provoked a sharp reaction from the man McCrory appointed to chair the board — Bill Cobey, a former Republican congressman and state party chairman. He and a majority of board members voted to go to court.

State Senate leader Phil Berger claimed they didn’t have a case. That’s what he said when McCrory sued, with support from former Govs. Jim Martin and Jim Hunt, to block the creation of regulatory commissions that the governors said intruded into executive authority. The state Supreme Court sided with McCrory, giving him an important victory against legislative overreach. This time, McCrory chose to give in.

Fortunately, Cobey has the fortitude to stand up for executive authority. His board, which is an executive agency, can hardly supervise and administer the schools if it has no say over the hiring of top administrators and the expenditure of funds. The legislature may intend to further restrict Cooper’s power by limiting what his appointees to the board can do, but the constitutional issue is more important. The authors of the document clearly meant for the superintendent to carry out the directives of the board, not to operate independently of it. There’s nothing partisan about that.

The courts should strike down this measure.”

And here’s the N&O:

“GOP lawmakers want to do the following: give Johnson virtually all hiring power, remove the board’s approval of contracts, put administrative officers of charter schools under Johnson. The Republican leadership claims Democrats took away power from the superintendent’s office in the mid-1990s for political reasons and they’re just correcting that. In reality, what GOP chiefs are likely up to is to give power to Johnson, believing he will take orders from them. He is, after all, new to state government and thin on administrative experience.

So State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey, a former GOP congressman, is mad enough to take the issue to court, likely setting up a long legal fight. A Wake Superior Court Judge, Don Stephens, issued a temporary restraining order to block the legislature’s move for now.

This is an important confrontation. The State Board may be political, but it’s not in the thick of the partisan fray, and needs to stay above that in order to engage in reasonable, balanced judgments about the direction of public education.”

All in all, it looks like GOP legislators may be headed for what seems like their umpteenth defeat at the hands of state and federal courts. No wonder they’ve been trying to rig that decision making venue too.

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