The law, House Bill 17, was passed in the surprise special sessions in December and would transfer supervising authorities relating to the free public school system from the State Board of Education to the superintendent of public instruction.
The board, whose chairperson is Republican William Cobey, filed a suit in December claiming that the shift of power violates the North Carolina Constitution.
The temporary restraining order granted by Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens will continue until the hearing is rescheduled.
North Carolina Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Durham, criticized the bill and said the State Board of Education provides broad representation of diverse interests that cannot be paralleled by only the superintendent of public instruction.
“You want a powerful Board of Education to include representatives from communities of color, people who represent children with disabilities and other interest groups that need the school system to serve them better,” he said.
Matt Ellinwood, director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center, said the bill will complicate the relationship between the superintendent and board — which, in recent years, has been functioning.
“It served as an example of two entities that were able to work together really well in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Terry Stoops, director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation, said the law is a symptom of a larger disagreement about education governance.
“These fights are nothing new and nothing unique to Republicans or Democrats because both sides have been trying to gain a greater influence over education and education policy,” Stoops said.
He said he doesn’t anticipate much disagreement about the general direction of education policy between the mostly Republican board and the superintendent, but rather with the implementation of legislation the General Assembly passes.
“If the legislature passes a program that requires implementation by the State Board of Education, would their adversarial relationship make it less likely to be successful?” he said.
The system of checks and balances between the board and the superintendent maintains a healthy working relationship, Ellinwood said.
If the law is found to be constitutionally sound, Meyer said he expects to see increased school privatization by way of charter schools and private school vouchers.
“By giving more authority to the superintendent of public instruction, you have less oversight of the public school system as a whole, and it would be much easier for the Republican legislative agenda to expand privatization quickly,” he said. “And we know that in North Carolina, our charter schools are more segregated than our public schools.”
Ellinwood said the power struggle takes away from the ultimate goal of the board and the superintendent — to provide an effective free public school system.
“It can potentially affect the way that people look at our education system — we don’t need it to be fighting within itself,” he said. “We want people to have faith that our education system is functional and moving in the right direction and things like this hamper that.”