Much of the discussion this morning, rightfully so, centers around Donald Trump’s surprising coronation early this morning, but followers of North Carolina’s most hot-button education issues were in for their fair share of surprises last night too.
Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon noted this morning that, with the exception of HB2-affiliated politicians such as Gov. Pat McCrory and attorney general candidate Buck Newton, Republicans were swept into office by a wave of their supporters seemingly fired up by the prospect of a Trump candidacy.
That wave extended to the race for superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, where longtime Superintendent June Atkinson was narrowly defeated by a relatively unknown challenger, Republican Mark Johnson.
According to the state’s unofficial election results, Johnson had claimed 50.6 percent of the vote, compared to Atkinson’s 49.3 percent.
Atkinson has held office since her election in 2004, and was one of few Democrats to survive the Republican takeover in Raleigh in 2010.
Johnson is a school board member in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
The office is a pivotal one for North Carolina schools, and while the N.C. General Assembly holds the purse strings for the state’s schools, the DPI superintendent oversees testing and administration for the state public school system.
Atkinson often clashed with GOP leadership in the legislature during her tenure in office, contending that lawmakers and McCrory had failed to properly fund the state’s schools. Meanwhile, Johnson argued during the campaign that Atkinson’s office was not properly preparing North Carolina students.
In another key race for North Carolina schools, it also appears that incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican from Raleigh, has apparently fended off Democratic challenger Linda Coleman.
It’s important because the lieutenant governor, in addition to presiding over the state Senate, also holds a seat on the State Board of Education. In the past, Forest, an outspoken supporter of school choice, has used the position to steer board members on key issues such as background checks for teachers, a major issue in the legislature this year.
For left-leaning public school backers, the news wasn’t all bad on Election Day. While ballots are still being counted, Attorney General Roy Cooper has taken a slim lead on McCrory.
N.C. Association of Educators President Mark Jewell, who represents the largest teacher advocacy organization in the state, touted Cooper’s lead as good news for the state’s public schools. School backers have often slammed McCrory’s office for under-funding public schools.
“This election showed that North Carolinians believe that investing in our public schools is a priority in this state,” Jewell said in a statement. “Teachers stood strong for education and made a real difference during this election. We look forward to working with Governor-elect Cooper to move North Carolina forward.”