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School Choice Proponent Truitt Wins Top North Carolina Schools Post, Vows Local Control in Pandemic Response

By Mark Keierleber | November 4, 2020

(Catherine Truitt/Facebook)

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

Republican Catherine Truitt, an education reformer and online university chancellor, has secured North Carolina’s top education job after waging a campaign to fix the state’s “broken” education system.

Truitt, a former teacher who serves as chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina, was elected with 51.4 percent of the vote. Democratic challenger Jen Mangrum, an associate education professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, got 48.6 percent of the vote, according to WFAE in Charlotte. Truitt will replace Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor.

“I know deep down that the surest pathway to opportunity and to success in this great country is still education,” she said during a UNC-TV interview on Tuesday. “I know, from having spent my entire adult life working in education, that we’re not educating all students,” she said, adding that “most” kids are not well-served by their schools. A key step in reform, she said, is training educators on the “science of reading” that emphasizes phonics in early literacy.

Watch the full interview here:

Similar to a lot of races this year, the schools chief contest presented North Carolina voters with two competing visions on pandemic response. While Mangrum argued that state lawmakers haven’t given schools enough resources to ensure teachers feel safe returning to classrooms, Truitt embraced a message of local control, arguing that districts should be given the option to fully reopen their buildings and that lengthy closures have hurt students academically.

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In a radio interview Tuesday evening, she said she’ll use her post to improve public schools — but emphasized that they aren’t the best fit for all kids as demonstrated by the pandemic. Truitt is a proponent of the state voucher program, which helps low- and middle-income families afford private school tuition, calling it a boon for families to escape “failing schools that have been failing kids for generations.”

In a Q&A before Election Day, Truitt said the pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in the state’s K-12 education system — though she stressed that the circumstances differ substantially from county to county. Among the challenges is a digital divide, with more than 300,000 students lacking internet access at home and some 69,000 without computers. She proposed public-private partnerships between the state and internet service providers to cut costs for low-income families.

She noted that the pandemic also revealed weaknesses in the state’s accountability system and the way it funds schools.

“If we are to emerge from this crisis better than before, we must be willing to prioritize digital inclusion, relevant assessment policies, and the provision of equity of resources in our schools,” she wrote in response to a question from the news site EdNC. “The consequences of not doing so will fail yet another generation of students.”

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2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter

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