HB17: The Power Grab for Mark Johnson From That Special Session in December of 2016 – Remembering Why We Marched in May and Will Vote in November


With the effects of House Bill 17 from the surreptitious special session of December in 2016, Mark Johnson became the most enabled incoming state superintendent in state history. He has powers that even his predecessor did not possess one-tenth the magnitude of. And considering that he ran against her adherence to the “status-quo”, that’s rather eye-opening.

On Oct. 23, 2016 in the Winston-Salem Journal in an article by Arika Herron Johnson commented on the job that Dr. Atkinson had done in her tenure as a state superintendent.

“More of the same is not the only option for students and educators,” Johnson said, who has campaigned heavily against the “status quo.”

Johnson said he first ran for the Forsyth County school board in 2014 in hopes of making a difference in struggling local schools, an area of interest since teaching for two years in a Charlotte high school through the Teach for America program.

Johnson said he quickly realized that many obstacles to improving Forsyth County schools were statewide issues, over which the local school board had little control. After fewer than two years on the Forsyth County school board, Johnson announced plans to run for state superintendent.

“What’s most at stake,” he said, “is whether we’re going to have my opponent, who’s going to continue the status quo, or someone who’s going to bring in a fresh perspective and make the change needed to improve public education” (http://www.greensboro.com/news/government/elections/forsyth-county-republican-takes-on-incumbent-in-state-superintendent-race/article_768efc7f-c25c-524c-89e6-c1a235a5e950.html).

Those are strong words considering what happened in the special session and the amount of power Johnson was granted that Dr. Atkinson never had. It sounds as if the “status-quo” was not really established by Dr. Atkinson, but by the limitations placed on her and her department.

At last observation, Dr. Atkinson was not responsible for:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

The people who granted Mark Johnson immeasurable power as state superintendent did those actions.

Yet if those actions are part of the “status-quo” that Johnson says we need to stop as a state, then what is he going to do? Well, just look at the actions of the last month at DPI.

If Johnson had (as reported in Herron’s article), “taken issue with what (he) sees as a lack of support for teachers and schools coming from the department and a failure to respond quickly to such issues as the state’s academic standards and over-testing” will he really seek to empower or enable those very teachers and schools the way that people in the GOP controlled NCGA special session just empowered him before he even stepped foot inside of his new office?

When the chair and vice-chair of the GOP controlled State Board of Education say that the General Assembly overstepped its boundaries in granting Johnson as the incoming state superintendent this much power, then that sends more than one red flag into the air.

When two former governors, one of whom is Republican Jim Martin, says that special session went too far with bills such as the one which enables Johnson, then sirens are screaming.

When the John Locke Foundation says that the power grab that involved the role of Johnson’s office has gone too far, then many are saying that part of hell is freezing over.

If someone who was as experienced as Johnson’s predecessor was and as handcuffed as she yet was still able to wage battle against the very forces that have actually controlled the very “status-quo” you seem to have run against, will Johnson be willing to battle those very people for the sake of the students and schools now that they have politically enabled him?

Or will he continue to bend to the wishes of those who have placed this power within his office through a politically motivated special session that was undertaken solely as a coup against the fact that a democrat won the governor’s election?