Catherine Truitt to bring conservative leanings to superintendent’s post

Catherine Truitt

Republican Catherine Truitt rode a conservative wave across North Carolina on Tuesday to become the state’s next Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina defeated UNC-Greensboro professor Jen Mangrum with 51 percent of the vote. 

Truitt will bring solid conservative credentials to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education (SBE). She believes in school choice and supports North Carolina’s controversial Opportunities Scholarships favored by the state’s GOP leadership.

She’ll have a conservative ally on the board. Mark Robinson, a military veteran and Greensboro businessman defeated Democrat Yvonne Lewis Holley, a four-term state representative for Raleigh’s District 38, on Tuesday to become North Carolina’s first black lieutenant governor.

The lieutenant governor serves on the SBE, so Robinson will have opportunities to impact state education policy.  

The political novice became a darling of the GOP and the National Rifle Association in 2018 after he gave a speech before the Greensboro City Council in support of gun rights. The video has been viewed millions of time.

Here’s what’s posted on Robinson’s campaign website about his position on education:

Mark believes that education is one of the most important issues that our state faces today. He believes that education should be just that, education; Indoctrination in our public schools must end. Mark advocates for parents having the decision in how and where their children are educated and supports school choice. As a part of supporting school choice, he believes that we should continue and strengthen opportunity scholarship programs which allows students of lower economic statuses to have the opportunity to go to a school outside of the public school system and to receive financial assistance to do so.

Truitt also supports school choice, including the adding more charter schools to the 201 already operating in the state. She also supports Opportunity Scholarships (school vouchers), but has expressed reservation about expanding them to include children from wealthy families.

The vouchers were created to help low-income families pay tuition at private schools. Parents can receive up to $4,200 in scholarship money for that purpose. GOP leaders successfully pushed to increase the income eligibility to allow wealthier families to participate.   

Truitt is likely to enjoy a more collegial relationship with SBE members than Mark Johnson, whom she will replace.

Johnson was often at odds with the SBE over policy issues, most notably Johnson’s awarding of the state’s K-3 reading diagnostic tool to Istation. Johnson and the board also had a big fight about the powers of the superintendent almost immediately after he took office. The dispute landed in court.

Truitt distanced herself from Johnson in a September editorial board meeting with the Raleigh News & Observer, calling Johnson someone who “didn’t know how to listen to other people, didn’t know how to accept help, didn’t know how to lead.”

Senate leader Phil Berger touted Republican victories in an election night statement. Democrats appear to have lost ground in the House and fell short of their goal to pull even with Republicans in the Senate.

“For the sixth consecutive election, voters made a clear choice in support of the Republican platform of low taxes, expanded school choice, and large investments in education and teacher pay,” Berger said. “The Senate Republican majority will continue to deliver on those promises.

My Election Day motivation? Ensuring every child has the right to a sound basic public-school education.

As an out of state student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have come to realize that the education I received is far from the norm. In my four years at Carolina, I have become heavily invested in remedying the inequities that exist in our country’s education system. I have grown even more grateful for my education and become extremely passionate about providing equitable opportunities for all students. To have knowledge is to have power; and I am a firm believer that every child has the ability to succeed as well as the right to a sound basic public-school education.

Through my work with Every Child NC, I have gained a greater perspective of the educational inequities that children in North Carolina face every day. It is not uncommon that children lack resources that we may take for granted—whether it be pens and pencils or internet access. For the past 7 months, thousands of students statewide have been learning virtually without reliable internet access. As a student, I know firsthand that virtual learning is incredibly difficult— and without internet, learning online becomes entirely impossible. As a result of the pandemic, the inequities that students face are more evident than ever before.

While acknowledging that such inequities exist is heartbreaking, it has ultimately motivated me. It has ignited in me a desire to spread awareness and to contribute to systemic change. It has shaped my decision to become a teacher through Teach for America. It has enabled me to have uncomfortable conversations with my peers. And above all, it has empowered me to vote. This election is pivotal not only at the federal level, but also at the state level.

I am proudly registered as a North Carolina voter. Though educational inequities exist back in New York, I have worked directly with the education system of North Carolina. I have both seen and heard about the lack of resources in our rural schools, as well as the discrimination that students face based on race, religion, disability, and so much more. With my awareness of these inequities, voting here is so important to me. I urge you to vote to make a difference in our education systems in North Carolina. Most politicians have not experienced the inequities firsthand, so we need to ensure that they are willing and ready to help those who struggle with the lack of resources each day. Teachers can only provide so much to their students with the money the state has allocated to education, and for that reason changes in policy need to be made.

My hope is that one day every child can receive the opportunity to succeed. By providing each child with a sound basic education, we provide him with a chance to change the world. We need to continue working to close the opportunity gap that many children are exposed to the moment they enter the world. The most immediate way to contribute to this change is to get out and vote.

Alexa Marie Edwards is a Statistic and Analytics Major, Neuroscience Minor, Spanish Minor for the Professions. She is volunteering with Communities for the Education of Every Child NC through her Apples Service-Learning Internship.


College students working for historic youth vote turnout with virtual events

As America heads to the polls today, student advocates are making sure North Carolina college students make their voices heard.

The North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG) Students New Voters Project is holding virtual voter turnout events with students from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Pembroke, N.C. State, App State, Duke University, Durham Tech, Forsyth Tech and Guilford Tech.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having moved many of the state’s college students’ courses online, the group has moved its traditional get-out-the-vote efforts online.

“We have traded in our clipboards for Google Docs,” said Hannah Varnell, an NCPIRG intern and senior at UNC -Charlotte, in a statement Tuesday. “Now, we are delivering class announcements through our laptop cameras while seated at our kitchen tables.”

Young people in the Millennial and Generation Z demographics make up the largest group of potential voters in the country this election season, the group said. But young people are historically underrepresented due to their low voter turnout. NCPIRG is hoping to change that with virtual “Party at the Polls” phone banking events they hope will encourage thousands of their peers to vote.

“Information from student guides on how to vote safely in person is helpful, but young people reaching out to their peers has proven to be a far more effective way of helping new voters get out to the polls,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

During an uncertain fall semester that saw some of the nation’s largest universities opening and then closing, the still managed to reach more than 5,000 students through virtual classroom events and partnered with campus administrators, faculty and other student groups to help students make a voting plan.

“We worked with administrators and student government to send out all campus emails that reached thousand students in a single day.” said UNC- Pembroke Campus Organizer Jen Hibberts, “Building a diverse vote coalition on campus was critical to reach every student on campus.”

The group points to recent data showing early voting in North Carolina and other states exceeds the totals from 2016, which should lead to historic voter turnout this election.

“Nationally, I am encouraged to see so many young people voting early and the work NCPIRG student leaders and our partners in North Carolina contributed to that effort,” said New Voters Project Director Manny Rin. “After the election, the work continues to make sure the youth voice is heard. Our student leaders will continue working with their campuses to ensure voting is a part of the fabric of their institutions and not just an effort every 4 years.”

Why do I plan to be a pro-education voter on Tuesday? To be a part of the change.

Being a first-generation American, exercising my civil right to vote is a necessity. As we have heard repeatedly, every vote matters. When voting I do not only take into consideration my own political views, but I also take into account the millions of immigrants and foreign-born citizens living in the U.S. who are unable to vote but who are readily impacted by the actions of the elected officials in their communities. It is also important to vote for candidates who are taking action to address social inequities, such as reducing the opportunity gaps in educational quality and attainment.

Within the state of North Carolina itself, we see a large gap in the allocation of resources and quality of education that students are receiving throughout the state. I say this from personal experience. I grew up in Morganton, a small growing town in North Carolina, and have seen first-hand the impact of this gap in terms of my transition to a 4-year university. Although I had excelled at my high school, Patton High School, and thought I was going to be excelling in college at the same level and that simply did not happen. That first year, I struggled immensely with the college classes and looking back, I know that I was not in any way prepared for these classes and my work was not up to par. I know that my teachers in high school did their best with the resources they had but it was the state who had failed us both. In the end, I was able to adapt and learn to become the student I knew I was capable of being.

Unfortunately, this is not a singular case as there are many students who face the same situation and have been failed by the education system in the state and country. The quality of education ranges drastically from rural to urban cities and this need to be reformed for the benefit of future students. Every child is entitled to a fair and equitable education, yet these opportunity gaps persist. Our country is limiting the potential of underserved students by making them feel inept in this transition from high school to a higher-educational institution. This is why I’m inspired by the work of a community-led coalition (made up of student leaders, parents, educators and community advocates) called Communities for the Education of Every Child NC (Every Child NC), whose mission is to fight for adequate and equitable funding for all public school students.

Communities for the Education of Every Child NC is a community-led, statewide coalition of organizations, parents, teachers, and students who advocate for every child’s constitutional right to a sound basic education.

We believe that equal access to quality leadership, teachers, programming, and services will ensure that race, ethnicity, economic background, regional location, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, or language are not barriers to educational opportunity.

Join us by signing the Advocate Pledge and learn more about this work. During these last few days before the November 3rd election, it is more important than ever to vote for the politicians and representatives who are dedicated to transforming the educational system of the country. I highly encourage everyone who is able to, to vote and make your voices heard. We must address inequities now for the benefit of future generations. Be a part of the change.

Leslie is a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Public Policy and Global Studies. Leslie is volunteering with Communities for the Education of Every Child NC through her Apples Service-Learning Internship.

New ‘Flood Center’ to focus on access, equity and educational opportunities for school children

Dr. Dudley Flood

Dr. Dudley Flood became a champion of school integration in North Carolina after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in the school desegregation case.

Flood traveled to every corner of the state trying to unite communities divided over the 1954 ruling in which justices unanimously agreed that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina announced Wednesday the opening of a new center to address issues of equity, access and opportunity that carries Flood’s name.

The Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity will serve as a hub to identify and connect organizations, networks and leaders to inform discussions on policies that impact equity and social justice, according to a press release.

The Flood Center, the press release said, will also “support and advance equity-focused educator programming and promote discussions around how schools are funded at the local and state levels.”

“All my life I’ve worked for the same concept — that we can, whenever and wherever we choose, educate any child whose education is of interest to us,” Flood said, repeating a phrase he’s often used during discussions about education.

The idea for the center grew out of findings and recommendations of the Forum’s Study Group XVI: Expanding Educational Opportunity (2016), co-chaired by Flood and the Forum’s Color of Education partnership.

The Study Group XVI’s second committee focused on how race affects student outcomes in North Carolina, and the equity issues implicated by the effects.

“Through the Flood Center, we will bring together all those who have made critical contributions to equity in education—and those who are willing to make such contributions — and together we will advance equity for this state and for this nation,” Flood said.

The Flood Center will bring together education stakeholders over the next several months to hear directly from students on topics related to equity and education.

The center will host a series of Webinars over the next several months as part of the Flood Center Student Voices Webinar Series:

  • Webinar 1: Teaching History: 1619, 1776, and Today.
  • Webinar 2: Critical Conversations and Deeper Learning: Pedagogy with an Equity Lens.
  • Webinar 3: Increasing Diversity in STEM.
  • Webinar 4: Student Views on Equity: Discipline, Policing, and Access.

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the Public School Forum of NC, said the Flood Center’s launch comes after a year of planning and collaboration.

Wolf also released the names of the center’s 17-member board that will guide its work and “continue Dr. Flood’s legacy by addressing issues of equity in education across North Carolina.”

Here’s the list of people who will serve on the Flood Center’s inaugural board:

  • Dr. Tawannah Allen, High Point University.
  • Tom Bradshaw, Jr., emeritus board. Member.
  • Matt Bristow-Smith, Edgecombe Early College High School.
  • Tracey Burns, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
  • Renee Cavan, Truist.
  • Nicky Charles
  • Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools.
  • Dr. Alice Garrett, Flood Group.
  • Dr. Anthony Graham, Winston Salem State University.
  • Dr. Patricia Hilliard, Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.
  • Dr. Martinette Horner, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  • Dr. Connie Locklear, Public Schools of Robeson County.
  • Ann McColl, The Innovation Project.
  • Dr. Marjorie Campo Ringler, East Carolina University.
  • Dr. Kathy Spencer, Southeast Education Alliance.
  • David Young, Participate Learning, Public School Forum BOD Representative.
  • Dr. Dudley Flood, Honorary Member