Should North Carolina Elect Its State Board of Education?

Should NC Elect Its State Board of Education?

A proposal has been put before the North Carolina General Assembly by GOP Reps. Blackwell, Torbett, Hardister and Zachary that would give North Carolina voters the opportunity to elect their State Board of Education representatives.

“This is designed to put that leadership role in clear hands and make the superintendent the person who is running the Board,” bill sponsor and House K-12 Education Committee Chair Rep. Blackwell said, as quoted by EdNC’s Alex Granados in his article on the bill.

Currently – and historically – members of the North Carolina State Board of Education have been appointed by the Governor, excluding two elected officials (Lieutenant Governor and State Treasurer) who are automatically members.

This change can only happen by amending the state constitution, which requires approval by North Carolina voters in a statewide referendum. If this proposal – House Bill 1173 – becomes law, the referendum could be on the ballot as soon as the November 2022 election.

Per HB 1173, the size of the Board would be pegged to North Carolina’s allotment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Therefore, since North Carolina will have 14 members in the U.S. House of Representatives starting in the 2022 election, then there would also be 14 members of the State Board of Education if it becomes an elected body. Its first election would take place in 2024 in the bill’s current form.

Additionally, and notably – the Superintendent of Public Instruction would become the Board’s chair, granting current Superintendent Catherine Truitt (R) the ability to vote on Board proposals, along with making her the clear leader of the Board.

While the Superintendent has always been the State Board of Education’s secretary, he or she cannot vote on Board matters. Elevating the Superintendent from a non-voting member to the Board’s chair is a huge leap – and perhaps one that is necessary.

DPI’s “Who’s on First?” Routine

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has long been plagued by a confusing leadership structure, one that the Carolina Journal described in 2009 using Abbott and Costello’s classic skit. It has been unclear for decades if the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the State Board of Education is truly running the show. Most recently, prior Superintendent Mark Johnson sued the State Board of Education for a greater share of control – and, while Johnson claimed victory in the case, so did the Board, revealing that the court’s wishy-washy decision was far from a definitive resolution.

But this goes back a long way with its origins traced back to 1995. In fact, Gov. Perdue’s efforts to clarify who’s in charge at DPI back in 2009 resulted in a lawsuit from then-Superintendent June Atkinson – but that’s a topic for another day.

So, it’s great to see legislators addressing this issue. It seems assured that decades of confusion in DPI’s leadership structure have harmed the agency and the state’s schools, teachers, and students in many ways – some we likely know about, and others we don’t. Problems at the top of a large organization tend to roll downhill and hurt the whole agency and its mission, so fixing this ongoing issue is a worthwhile endeavor that will pay long-term dividends for the state’s public schools.

Therefore, HB 1173 is intriguing. It’s clear that reform is needed, and maybe this presents a good solution to the problem.


Critics will likely claim the plan is politically motivated – which, sure, it probably is. It’s clear that if this plan is implemented, the likely result is that the Board will be majority Republican, just like North Carolina’s congressional delegation (which is currently 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats). It would be a little naïve to think that’s not at least part of the motivation behind this bill. And I’m sure the GOP legislators don’t hate the idea of wresting Board appointment powers away from the Democratic governor.

But if the GOP can resolve the thorny issue of DPI’s leadership structure while at the same time strengthening the party’s influence on an important State Board – shouldn’t they do it? If it really is a win both for good government and the General Assembly’s majority party, maybe it stands a chance of crossing the legislative finish line and appearing on the ballot as a referendum in an upcoming election.

Policy being politically motivated doesn’t automatically make it bad. So, the question remains – should North Carolina elect its State Board of Education?

What Do Other States Do?

EdNC’s Granados reported in June that, during a recent committee debate on this bill, GOP Rep. Jake Johnson stated that North Carolina’s arrangement, with public schools governed by an appointed board and an elected superintendent, is somewhat unusual in the U.S.

“There’s probably a reason people aren’t doing it,” Johnson said.

Which got me thinking – is he right? Is North Carolina the odd one out for having an appointed state school board and an elected state superintendent?

Rather than examining all 50 states, let’s just have a look at some states that are similar to NC in terms of region, population and/or geography. I’ll use Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky as comparison states.

Of course, this won’t tell us if Johnson’s statement is correct — we’d need to look at more than 7 states to really determine that — but we can at least find out pretty easily if North Carolina is in alignment with comparable states on this issue.

Here’s what my extensive, very academic research (ie., Ballotpedia and Wikipedia) revealed about our comparison states:


  • Board: Appointed by Governor
  • Commissioner of Education: Appointed by Governor
  • 2/2 Appointed


  • Board: Appointed by Governor and General Assembly
  • Superintendent: Appointed by Governor
  • 2/2 Appointed

South Carolina

  • Board: Appointed by Governor and General Assembly
  • Superintendent: Elected
  • 1/2 Appointed


  • Board: Appointed by Governor
  • Superintendent: Appointed by Governor
  • 2/2 Appointed


  • Board: Hybrid (11 elected; 8 appointed)
  • Superintendent: Appointed by State Board of Education
  • 1.5ish/2 Appointed


  • Board: Appointed by Governor
  • Superintendent: Elected
  • 1/2 Appointed


  • Board: Appointed by Governor
  • Commissioner of Education: Appointed by State Board of Education
  • 2/2 Appointed

(By the way, most, if not all, of these states vote to confirm the Governor’s board appointments in their state legislature – which NC does too.)

So, based on this unassailable research, it seems that Rep. Johnson might be correct, but maybe not in the way he thought. It appears that it is actually more common among our sample states to appoint both the superintendent and the state’s board of education, rather than electing just one or the other. Indeed, no comparison state elects both – which is what North Carolina would be doing should HB 1173 become law.

South Carolina’s system appears to be pretty similar to North Carolina’s, while Georgia’s looks to be basically identical.

Notably, though, the appointment structure for South Carolina’s State Board of Education is significantly different from North Carolina’s. In North Carolina, all members of the State Board of Education are appointed by the Governor, save for the elected Council of State officials who are automatic members, the Lieutenant Governor and State Treasurer. However, in South Carolina, only one board member is appointed by the Governor, while the remaining 16 are appointed by legislators.

It seems that this arrangement may help balance the power between the executive and legislative branches more effectively than the Governor-dominated appointment process that defines North Carolina’s board.

But that’s not what’s proposed, so no need to worry about that now. While it’s great to see what other states are doing, their systems might not be right for NC. So let’s stay focused on the task at hand: finding out if electing the State Board of Education would be a good move for North Carolina.

So... Is it a Good Idea?

Philosophically, I quite like the idea. I think it’s necessary and good to give the public a voice whenever possible, even if it can be messy and – shall we say – imperfect. It’s what democracy is all about.

However, it seems that rather than fixing the problem of an unclear leadership structure at DPI, HB 1173 could very well make it worse.

One big argument the Superintendent has for being the rightful leader of DPI is that he or she is the holder of an elected office – they have the support of North Carolinians who elected them to do that exact job: leading DPI and, by extension, the state’s public schools.

If the State Board of Education is also elected, then the Superintendent no longer has that claim. They’re even.

The Superintendent’s status as the Board’s chair under HB 1173 would make a bigger difference in terms of resolving DPI’s leadership woes than making the Board an elected body.

But the purpose of this blog post isn’t to solve the DPI c-suite conundrum once and for all. All we want to know today is – should North Carolina elect its State Board of Education?

Yes. It’s a good idea. The State Board of Education is an important part of state government with a huge influence over the state’s public schools, impacting millions of North Carolina families each and every day. Indeed, the State Board of Education is a prime example of the type of office that really should be elected. Anyone who has that much control over what your children learn and how your tax dollars are spent for public education should answer to the electorate.

But does an elected Board solve DPI’s structural problems? No, probably not, but the Superintendent leading the Board as chair will help a good bit, I think.

What Happens Now?

As of July 1, the General Assembly adjourned its current session (kind of? I guess?), so it seems the idea is tabled, at least until July 26.

And then, as a constitutional amendment, it must be voted on by North Carolina’s voting population – and it might not pass the General Assembly in time to make the November 2022 ballot. In fact, according to the bill, even if it passed the General Assembly in time to be on the ballot this year, the State Board of Education still wouldn’t see its first election until 2024.

So, it doesn’t seem like there will be any changes for the time being – but it’s interesting to think about.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Share on Pinterest

Need a Website? RojaTech Can Help!

My company, RojaTech, LLC, provides top-notch professional web design services to a wide variety of clients. Our websites are user-friendly, modern, and beautiful on any device. If you’d like to avoid the headaches of figuring out hosting, security, and the other back-end aspects of owning a website, never fear – RojaTech, LLC can handle it all. We give you the freedom and flexibility to just focus on your business, and leave the website stuff to us. 

RojaTech, LLC knows how to present your business to the world with a professional image through excellent web design. Also, ask us about our copywriting services! We can fill in your website with well-written, industry-specific content that includes messages designed to appeal to your customers.

Our services are also available to non-profits, churches, political campaigns and other organizations. Click the button below to visit and get started today!