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Horner to co-chair Senate education panel

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Second-term state Sen. Rick Horner will take a lead role in shaping policy for North Carolina public schools as co-chairman of the Senate's education committee.

Horner, R-Nash, joins Sens. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, and Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, in chairing the Committee on Education and Higher Education. Senate leader Phil Berger announced the appointment on Thursday.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for me to substantially affect education policy in our state," Horner said in a Thursday evening statement. "I'm look forward to working for and with the school districts across this state to bring urgency and accountability to this critically important but very basic task of preparing our young people to run the place."

Education is a key plank in Horner's platform. Before seeking a General Assembly seat, he served on the Nash-Rocky Mount school board for 14 years. As a freshman senator, Horner called for increasing the proportion of N.C. Education Lottery proceeds earmarked for school construction.

Tillman, a former teacher and school administrator, is a ninth-term lawmaker and returning committee chair who has long been a leading Senate Republican architect of public school policy. Ballard is a teacher's daughter who works as an executive for the Christian relief ministry Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Horner is accruing seniority in his second term. Along with his leadership role on the education panel, the Bailey lawmaker will co-chair the State and Local Government and Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology committees. Sen. John Alexander, R-Wake, will serve as Horner's co-chair on both committees.

Berger also appointed Horner to serve as a member of the Appropriations on Education and Higher Education, Appropriations/Base Budget, Health Care, Judiciary and Pensions, Retirement and Aging committees during the 2019-20 legislative term.

Horner's redrawn Senate District 11 includes all of Nash County and the western portion of Johnston County containing the city of Clayton and the town of Kenly.

Horner lived in Wilson when he was elected to the District 11 seat in 2016, but court-ordered redistricting drew Wilson County out of that district. In early 2018, the Bailey native moved back to his childhood home, which sat within the boundaries for both the old and new legislative district.

He defeated Democratic opponent Albert Pacer in November's general election, a rematch of his first successful campaign, to win his second term.

The former school board chairman has long sought a seat at the table where legislative leaders hammer out priorities for the state's schools.

"I'm hoping to get more seniority and leverage on the education issues," Horner said in February 2018. "I've gotten in the room in some of the decision-making processes. It's very important we have someone strong on public schools from the Republican Party on the education committee."