Supt. Candidate forum highlights divide between support for systems versus students

Last week, the two candidates for N.C. State Superintendent of Schools participated in a candidate forum between the candidates, Republican Catherine Truitt and Democrat Jennifer Mangrum.

Through the questions asked, a stark difference between the two candidates became clear: Mangrum, backed by the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), supports systems and the status quo, whereas Truitt consistently seemed back whatever choice best fit students.

The forum was hosted by three consistently anti-school choice groups, Public Schools First NC, Public School Forum of North Carolina, and the NC League of Women Voters. The event was broadcast by WRAL and moderated by WRAL’s Laura Leslie.

One of the first questions was about the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) which provides up to $4,200 a year to eligible students to spend at a private school of their choice. Democrats and the anti-school choice crowd often refer to the scholarships as “vouchers.”

Truitt got to answer first and rightly pointed out that the funds for the OSP do not come from the K-12 Education budget and that it does not fall under the responsibilities of the superintendent.

In her response, she noted that the recent actions by the General Assembly in the latest COVID relief bill did not increase the funds to the OSP, but instead only expanded the threshold for eligibility. Gov. Roy Cooper has signed the bill. The bill expands the OSP’s household income threshold of 133% to 150% of the amount required for the student to qualify for federal free or reduced lunches.

“When parents of means are dissatisfied with their public school, they can choose to go to a private school or they can opt for the lottery for a magnet school. Poor families cannot do that,” said Truitt. “And that is what the Opportunity Scholarship is for.”

Truitt pointed out the appropriation for the OSP is $85 million, “which is .8% – less than 1% of the overall K-12 education budget.” She also mentioned North Carolina has a lot of school choice options. She said that if homeschooling were a district, it would be the third-largest in the state.

At a primary candidate forum earlier this year, Mangrum said that she thinks NC “private school vouchers” are “unconstitutional” and that  “vouchers are starving public schools.” She said at the time that she hoped someone sues over them again.

The last time a suit was brought, the NCAE was the main plaintiff. In 2015, the NC State Supreme Court ruled that scholarships were constitutional. She’s gotten her wish, the NCAE filed a complaint right before the start of the new school year.

At that same candidate forum earlier this year, Truitt said she supports the Opportunity Scholarship Program as it exists now, but would not expand it.

Watch the full forum:

The candidates will also be participating in another forum hosted by the NC Association for Public Charter Schools and the NC Coalition for Charter Schools. These will be virtual and separate events:

Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. Jen Mangrum
Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. Catherine Truitt

More information including the Zoom links for the forums and candidate questionnaires can be accessed at the NC Association for Public Charter Schools website.


The Candidates

Catherine Truitt is currently the Chancellor for Western Governor’s University. She taught for ten years in high school and middle school. In 2015, she was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to serve as his senior education adviser, for which she earned the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a citizen by the governor.

Her education includes a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland (1994) and a Master’s in Education from the University of Washington (1997).

Truitt was recently endorsed by the NC Police Benevolent Association. She sat down for an interview with me for North State Journal this past January, in which she revealed she is a breast cancer survivor.

View Truitt’s Ballotpedia profile.

Jennifer Mangrum has been a clinical associate professor in the School of Education at UNC-Greensboro since 2008. She taught second and third grade for around 12 years. In 2018, she challenged Senator Phil Berger for his seat and lost by over 19,000 votes, handily defeating Mangrum 63% to 34%.

Education-wise, Mangrum went to UNC-Wilmington for a degree in elementary education (1987) and she has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from East Carolina University. She attended UNC-Greensboro from 2001-2004 and earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.

Per her campaign site, Mangrum “became a part of the collective voice for Save Our Schools and the Red for Ed movement.” Red for Ed is a movement started by the National Education Association union, the parent organization of the NCAE.

Endorsements for Mangrum include a number of unions and union officials, the NCAE, the Wake NCAE, and left-leaning groups like Durham People’s United and Lillian’s List.

View Mangrum’s Ballotpedia profile.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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