A bill that would change the governance structure for three state schools for the deaf and the blind became law on Monday without Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.
H.B. 11, Schools for the Deaf and Blind, also limits Cooper’s appointment power.
Currently, the governor appoints the five members who oversee the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, the North Carolina School for the Deaf, and the Governor Morehead School for the Blind. The bill changes that to two appointments by the House Speaker, two by the Senate leader, and one by the State Board of Education — removing all power and oversight from the governor.
H.B. 11 also creates local boards responsible for the governance and operation of the three schools, a move that bill sponsors say would take the power away from Raleigh and disperse it locally.
“This bill unconstitutionally attacks the State Board of Education by putting partisan political appointees of the legislature in charge of our NC schools for the deaf and blind, and I will not sign it,” Cooper said in a press release. “In addition, Republican legislators have put forth other proposals that encourage politics to interfere with public school curriculums, and I urge them to stop these efforts that lead to controversial book bans, rewriting history, erasing science and other obstacles to student learning.”
Not surprisingly, Cooper 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.”
H.B. 11 passed the House 71-45 on March 1.
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.
On March 21, the Senate passed it 29-17.
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.”
Cooper did sign S.B. 174, Rev Laws Tech, Clarifying and Administrative Changes, and HB 2 Budget Technical Corrections into law on Monday.
David Bass also contributed to this article.