The governance structure for North Carolina’s three schools for the deaf and blind would be changed under a bill approved by the N.C. House this week.

House Bill 11, Schools for the Deaf and Blind, would change the governance structure for three state-run schools — the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, the North Carolina School for the Deaf, and the Governor Morehead School for the Blind.

Currently, the State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction oversees the three schools. The bill changes the governance structure where the schools will be operated by three local boards with two appointments by the House Speaker, two by the Senate leader, and one by the State Board of Education. It’s a move that bill sponsors say would take the power away from Raleigh and disperse it locally.

Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2022, claiming the measure “continues this legislature’s push to give more control of education to Boards of Trustees made up of partisan political appointees.”

The measure’s primary sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said the governance structure changes have the support of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and are needed to improve educational opportunities for deaf and blind students.

“We all know the old adage that if you want to get a better result, you have to change something. This is an effort to do that,” Blackwell said.

Rep. Lindsey Prather, D-Buncombe, spoke against the bill, claiming it could open the door for the schools to refuse services to certain students and also put employees at risk.

“I’m very concerned about the provisions in the bill that change the governing structure of these institutions,” Prather said. “These schools were specifically established to serve students across the state, and therefore it’s appropriate that they continue to be governed by a statewide, nonpartisan board with the local advisory board as they are now, as opposed to a local politicized board.”

H.B. 11 passed the House 71-45 and now goes to the Senate. Three Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the bill — Reps. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, Garland Pierce of Scotland County, and Michael Wray of Northampton County.

This story has been updated to correct the appointment structure under the old law.