North Carolina Republicans Take Control of Charter School Boards

The North Carolina House of Representatives. Photograph by Dylan Rhoney

By Dylan Rhoney

August 17, 2023

Critics of the takeover have argued that it could politicize charter schools and represents Republicans’ latest effort to consolidate their power. 

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly on Wednesday overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 618, which removes appointment power to charter school boards from the State Board of Education and places it in the hands of the General Assembly.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 27-18 and the House approved it in a 74-45 vote.

Critics of the bill have argued that it could politicize charter schools and represents Republicans’ latest effort to consolidate their power. 

State Rep. Lindsey Prather, an educator who represents Western Buncombe County described HB 618 as “a story of solutions looking for problems” and expressed concern over the legislature’s continued erosion of separation of powers in the state, a process she described as “death by a thousand cuts.”

“There was nothing wrong with the process of reviewing charter school applications,” she said.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill last month, writing in his veto message that “oversight of charter schools should be conducted by education experts and not partisan politicians.” 

Governor Roy Cooper vetoing SB20 on May 13, 2023. Photograph by Dylan Rhoney.

The override vote isn’t the first time the legislature has tried to grant itself appointment power by taking it away from another branch of government or state entity.

Earlier this year, Republicans introduced a proposal to grant the legislature appointment power to community college boards, stripping it from the Office of the Governor and the local school boards. 

At the time, State Rep. Eric Ager, a Democrat who represents part of Buncombe County and whose district includes Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, expressed concern about the impact this would have locally. 

“The local school board and their connection with the local community colleges is critical to the success of the workforce pipeline,” Ager said. 

The proposal did not ultimately become law. 

The legislature has taken other steps to try and entrench its power as well, with GOP leaders  appealing the Moore v. Harper case to the US Supreme Court.

As part of the case, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and allies advocated for the Court to affirm the “Independent State Legislature Theory,” which proposes that the legislature ought to have total authority to set laws regulating federal elections, an interpretation which would effectively allow partisan politicians to pass voter suppression laws, gerrymander electoral maps, and even potentially overturn election results—regardless of limits set by state constitutions and without any oversight from the courts, governors, or election administrators.

While the Court ruled against the Independent State Legislature Theory in a 6-3 ruling, State Sen. Lisa Grafstein of Wake County says that the theory could be the legislature’s guiding principle in expanding their power. 

“The Independent State Legislature Theory was obviously shot down, but I think it kind of points to what the thinking is, which is that the legislature ought to be able to do what it wants without regard to these other branches of government…which are critical to separation of power,” Grafstein said. 

While Gov. Cooper still has the power to veto legislation, both the House and Senate now have supermajorities controlled by the Republican Party, meaning the majority can essentially pass anything it wants to if their members are all in agreement.

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