SBE Chairman Bill Cobey voices his opposition for new charter school board bill, declares it unconstitutional

As members heard a legislative update during this month’s meeting of the State Board of Education, new chairman Bill Cobey took a moment to express his concerns about SB 337, which would create a new charter school oversight board.

SBE Chairman Bill Cobey

Acknowledging that the full SBE may not want to take a formal position on the bill at this time, Cobey said that he personally could not support SB 337 and found that the legislation was unconstitutional.

SB 337 would abolish the Charter School Advisory Council, which is housed under the State Board of Education, and replace it with a new independent board comprised of members handpicked by the Governor and his colleagues. The new board would be an independent body tasked with setting policy for charter schools.

The question of constitutionality arises because of the fact that the new board would be independent of the State Board of Education. The North Carolina Constitution, in Article IX, Section 5, gives the State Board of Education the power to “supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support.” Since charter schools are public schools, the assertion is that they should be supervised by the State Board of Education. A list of other aspects to this bill that call into question its constitutionality can be found here.

The full Senate was scheduled to vote on SB 337 today—but at the last minute, the vote was pushed back to next week.

The legislative update also included discussion of the House and Senate ed reform bills, with the general consensus among those present that the House version was more promising. State Superintendent June Atkinson emphasized the importance of the House bill taking into account school growth in its grading formula.

School Superintendent Representative Dianne Frost said that she was concerned that the A-F school grading system will wind up grading the demographics of a school rather than what happens inside the school.

The school voucher bill recently introduced by Rep. Stam prompted little discussion. Board member Patricia Willoughby did raise the issue that the pre-K bill moving through the legislature sets eligibility income limitations at 100% of the federal poverty level, yet the voucher bill’s income limitations are far higher, at 300%.

Duke University graduate students presented to the SBE their solution to improve teacher compensation in North Carolina. Their report recommends raising starting teacher salary in NC to $34,000 and reducing the teacher salary schedule to 15 steps. They also advocated for increasing raises between steps, reducing the raise for master’s degrees and National Board Certification (which met some opposition by board members) and providing a raise for effective teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

The full meeting agenda with supporting materials can be found for day one here and day two here.

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