Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the comments of the State Board of Education.
Lawmakers did not violate the constitution when they transferred power from the State Board of Education to newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mark Johnson, according to the State Supreme Court.
A unanimous opinion was released Friday, which officially puts Johnson in charge of the $10 billion public school system. Chief Justice Mark Martin did not hear the case after previously recusing himself.
Attorneys for the Board of Education had argued that lawmakers, in crafting House Bill 17, encroached on the Board’s constitutional authority by copying and pasting its powers and duties and transferring them to Johnson.
They said lawmakers could not give or reallocate constitutional duties and that the Board’s core constitutional power was to supervise, make rules and administer funds.
Johnson’s attorneys argued that the General Assembly had authority to transfer power because of the constitutional language that the Board’s power is “subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly.”
The high court’s decision that HB717 did not encroach on the Board’s constitutional authority was in part because of “the existence of numerous statutory provisions subjecting the Superintendent’s authority to appropriate rules and regulations adopted by the Board.”
Attorneys for the Board, Bob Orr and Drew Erteschik viewed the Supreme Court opinion as a win.
“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, which reaffirms that the State Board of Education — and not the Superintendent of Public Instruction — has the ultimate authority under the Constitution to supervise and administer the state’s public school system,” they said. “We are also pleased that, while the Court stopped short of invalidating this particular legislation on its face, the Court unanimously declared that the Board has the final say on ‘the mechanics of the relationship between the Board and the Superintendent, as well as how their respective departments will operate internally.’ Beyond those initial observations, we are continuing to study the Court’s decision.”
Johnson also viewed the opinion as a win. He said in an emailed statement that the Supreme Court’s opinion “validates the common-sense proposition that the duly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction should lead the Department of Public Instruction.”
“I am looking forward to putting this lawsuit behind us and working with board members to strengthen public education in North Carolina,” he stated. “While it is unfortunate that it took more than a year and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to resolve this matter, the positive news is that we will be able to utilize the data-driven analysis to reorganize DPI to help the agency focus on its core mission of supporting educators, students, and parents across North Carolina.”
You can read the full opinion below.