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State Board of Education talks possible lawsuit over legislative limits to their power

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

Calling House Bill 17 [1] an attempt to “diminish the board’s constitutional authority,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey and the members of the state’s governing public school panel retired to close session to discuss their response with attorneys Tuesday morning.

Board members indicated they would not be returning to open session to discuss the matter Tuesday , which means that the panel isn’t likely to approve any lawsuits against the legislature today. Such an action would have to be conducted in open session under open records laws.

Tuesday’s specially called meeting comes hours after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the controversial Republican-led bill [2], which imposes strict limits on Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and Cobey’s board.

The law would shift powers to the newly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson [3], a Winston-Salem Republican who ousted longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson last month.

It would also realign control of the state’s administrative charter school office under Johnson, months after members of the state board sparked an uproar among school choice backers [4] when they turned down a handful of new charter applications.

Board members had little to say about the legislation—at least in open session Tuesday—although Cobey said he has “significant legal concerns” about the new law. On Monday night, Cobey told Policy Watch [5] he believes “most” of the law’s provisions relating to his board are unconstitutional.

Cobey said Tuesday that the state board and outgoing superintendent Atkinson “ have had a strong and productive working relationship. On behalf of the children of North Carolina, we would like to see this continue into the future.”

It’s worth noting that Cobey, a McCrory appointee, leads a Republican-led board that has, nonetheless, taken issue with a GOP sponsored effort to curb powers for the new Democratic governor’s administration.

At times, the board has seemed more centrist and bipartisan than right-tilted, but in an interview with Policy Watch Monday night, Cobey took issue with not being characterized as a conservative.

“My credentials as a conservative are as solid as any other conservative,” he said. “It has to do with the Constitution and I’m sworn to uphold that.”