A Charlotte educator explains why the 2020 election in NC was such a crushing defeat for many teachers. So what comes next?
If you’re an educator in North Carolina, there’s really no other way to characterize last week’s election. It was a devastating outcome for public schools.
There has not been an election cycle in recent memory where education advocates put in more work than they did over the past few months–and in the middle of a pandemic no less.
Driven by our passion to improve outcomes for our students, we phone-banked, canvassed, held virtual town halls on education, and showed up in droves to educate voters at the polls.
We felt real optimism going into the general election. State superintendent candidate Jen Mangrum was on her second car of the campaign, having driven the first one into the ground travelling all over the state talking about her vision for North Carolina’s schools.
Polls indicated there could be down-ballot implications stemming from the dumpster fire in Washington, DC which could drag down Trump sycophant Thom Tillis and impact state legislative races. Newly redrawn NC House and Senate maps appeared to make many districts more competitive than they had been in years.
Many of us believed that we were about to elect a whole slate of folks who share our view that strong public schools are the foundation of a democratic society. We were ready to knock Sen. Phil Berger off the lofty perch he has occupied while the NC General Assembly spent a whole decade gutting our public schools.
But when the smoke cleared on Nov. 4, North Carolina’s public education landscape was essentially unchanged in some ways, and perhaps even worse in others.
Tillis looks likely to keep his seat, defying polling numbers and holding off a challenge by Democrat Cal Cunningham, who fell victim to his own ridiculously unnecessary nookie-talk text messages. Tillis’ win means Republicans retain control of the US Senate—although January runoff elections in Georgia could still change that.
Catherine Truitt defeated Jen Mangrum by roughly 3% of the vote for the state superintendency. Truitt is as pro-charter as they come, believing that North Carolina should have no charter cap, that charters are held to sufficient levels of accountability and transparency and should receive funding to pay for their buildings.
She has a history of disparaging education advocates dating back to her stint serving as former Gov. Pat McCrory’s education advisor. Furthermore, she spent a lot of her campaign throwing stones at the NC Association of Educators, including falsely claiming that NCAE did not invite her to participate in its endorsement process. Truitt becomes the second consecutive Republican superintendent after a whole century of Democrats holding the position.
North Carolina’s new lieutenant governor is Republican Mark Robinson. Robinson was elected over Democrat Yvonne Holley despite years of social media activity that revealed his troubling views on social issues, including his belief that homosexuality leads to pedophilia and will result in the end of our civilization.
During his campaign, Robinson denied the existence of systemic racism, saying: “I don’t believe that systemic racism would allow two Black people to be standing here running for lieutenant governor or allow a Black man to be elected president for two terms.”
Robinson now takes a voting seat on North Carolina’s State Board of Education, which recently passed a resolution recognizing that “historical and current systems of inequitable and inadequate resource allocation, disproportionate suspensions and expulsions, lack of access to and supports for teachers of color, unequal access to educational opportunities and supports, implicit and explicit biases, and segregation perpetuate inequity in the outcomes of students.”
Republicans retain their majorities in both the North Carolina House and Senate, meaning Phil Berger will almost certainly remain Senate President Pro Tempore and keep his vice-like stranglehold on state policy.
The NC GOP will preside over the redistricting that follows the 2020 census, drawing congressional and state legislative district lines which cannot be vetoed by the governor. The same party which has consistently scoffed at Leandro and prioritized tax cuts over education and privatization over strong traditional public schools will continue to determine what state support for our public schools looks like for the foreseeable future.
These are not the outcomes we were hoping for, and it’s impossible not to feel discouraged and, quite honestly, to question the massive time and effort put into electioneering just to end up in essentially the same place.
However, there are a couple of silver linings.
Though the majority of our education policy is set at the state level, Donald Trump’s defeat means goodbye to the disastrous Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. President-elect Biden has pledged to put a teacher in charge of the Department of Education, and the fact that our next First Lady is a career educator bodes well for the incoming administration’s priorities when it comes to our nation’s schools.
Here in North Carolina, Gov. Cooper defeated COVID-denier Dan Forest, who had pledged to roll back the mask mandate and immediately reopen the state’s schools despite spiking virus levels. Cooper’s re-election, along with legislative Republicans’ failure to regain the supermajority they held until 2018, means the governor maintains the power to veto bad legislation coming out of the General Assembly.
Those positive outcomes would not have been possible without hard work on the ground.
We will learn from the losses we took in North Carolina’s 2020 general election and press on with the steadfast belief that educator engagement in political processes remains crucial to the future of public education in our state.
As our newly elected and re-elected policy makers take their seats in January, they can expect educators to be watching their every move, holding them publicly accountable for doing right by this state’s K-12 students and teachers throughout the pandemic and beyond.
North Carolina’s public educators will continue to fight like hell for the schools we all deserve.