News: Quick Takes

House Bill 17 expands superintendent’s authority (and more)

CJ file photo by Kari Travis
CJ file photo by Kari Travis

One of the most far-reaching of the 21 bills filed by House members during the special legislative session that convened today is House Bill 17, sponsored by House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, among others.

The bill undertakes a serious reshuffling of state government in several departments, led by the Department of Public Instruction. Under the state constitution, the (elected) superintendent is responsible for implementing policies enacted by the (appointed) State Board of Education, but the General Assembly can set some boundaries on that policymaking authority.

If H.B. 17 passes as written, newly elected Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, will have much more leeway than did his predecessor, Democrat June Atkinson.

H.B. 17 sets major new limits on the SBE. Among other things, it shifts the administration of funding (state and federal) from the SBE to the superintendent; gives the superintendent, rather than the SBE, appointment powers for senior administrators (including the SBE’s staff); and shifts the Office of Charter Schools to the superintendent’s control.

The bill also reversed a 2013 move expanding the number of political appointees inside the governor’s Cabinet departments from 400 to 1,500 — a boon for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. If the bill passes, Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper will have 300 political appointments at his disposal.

And it requires the governor’s Cabinet heads to be confirmed by the state Senate.

The bill eliminates the governor’s ability to appoint four of the 13 members to the boards of trustees of each of the 16 University of North Carolina campuses, giving that power to General Assembly leaders.

Carolina Journal will provide more detailed reports on this and other bills in the special session as developments warrant.