This article and the accompanying image were originally published by The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and are republished here as part of the One Vote North Carolina student media collaboration. Copyright by The Daily Tar Heel.
The November election is coming up, so The Daily Tar Heel is breaking down every state and local office on the ballot, from governor to county commissioner. Here, we examined the candidates for state superintendent of public instruction.
The 2020 general election is a little over a month away, and voters across North Carolina will be voting for a new state superintendent of public instruction.
Jen Mangrum, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s School of Education, is the Democratic candidate, and Catherine Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina, is the Republican candidate.
In North Carolina, the state superintendent oversees the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. In their role, they implement laws made by the N.C. General Assembly in the state’s public school systems. The state superintendent collaborates with the legislatures, the State Board of Education and local superintendents across the state.
In one of the DTH's surveys, UNC students said they cared the most about issues of health care, student debt, civil rights, the environment and LGBTQ+ rights and policies. Here’s what the candidates had to say on some of these issues:
Both candidates emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health for students and safety in schools.
Mangrum said North Carolina needs to expand Medicaid because there should not be children without health insurance. She said every school in the state should have at least one nurse.
During the pandemic, Mangrum said she would like to set up a COVID-19 clinic at every school to make sure there is a nurse, a psychologist, a social worker and a guidance counselor to work with children while their social and emotional health is at risk.
Truitt said social workers, school nurses, school psychologists and school resource officers need more funding. Along with more funding, Truitt said there are not enough qualified people in the state to be in these positions, especially in rural counties.
“We’re going to have to get creative about ways that we can ensure that the students who live in these low-income districts are being served,” Truitt said. “I think telehealth is a great example of a way to do that.”
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Mangrum said she would like to expand the state's Teaching Fellows program to more schools throughout North Carolina, especially to historically Black colleges and universities. The Teaching Fellows program gives students opportunities for funding and loan forgiveness to become teachers.
“Teaching Fellows would be a great way to keep the debt from overcoming people that want to be teachers and commit to North Carolina,” Mangrum said.
Truitt is chancellor at Western Governors University North Carolina, a nonprofit online university that she said has been noted for its innovation and disruption to higher education. She said the same innovation and disruption has to occur with traditional brick and mortar universities.
“Free college sounds like a great idea, but it does nothing to lower the cost of a college education, which has skyrocketed in the last 20 years,” Truitt said.
Truitt said North Carolina spends more on the residential pieces, like housing, of a four-year education than on teaching, and she is not a fan of that. She said North Carolina needs to rethink how post-secondary education is priced and how it is delivered.
Mangrum said we need to start looking at identifiers in the system that create opportunity gaps between children of color and their white peers. She also wants to figure out ways to recruit more teachers of color in North Carolina and to create more opportunity for growth and leadership.
Mangrum said her cabinet will be diverse so it is not limited in its perspectives.
Truitt said the biggest civil rights issue is the state’s inability to ensure that students of color are learning how to read by the time they’re in third grade. She also said there is a 30 point achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier counterparts—a statistic that hasn't moved for more than 30 years.
“We need leadership that’s going to ask the question, ‘What do we need to be doing differently in order to see different outcomes for students who have clearly been underserved?’” Truitt said.
Truitt wants to launch a statewide reading campaign that is grounded in the science of reading, and to make sure all counties are offering career technical education pathways and credentials that are aligned to workforce needs.
Mangrum said she would like to get North Carolina to the top of the states for teacher pay. She said North Carolina needs to start supporting its teachers and to give teachers appropriate pay for their master's degrees.
Truitt also wants to raise teacher pay for all teachers, especially veteran teachers who are not getting the pay raises she said they deserve.
LGBTQ+ rights and policies
Mangrum said she is committed to having an Office of Equity Affairs at the Department of Public Instruction to address issues of racism and protect vulnerable populations such as members of the LGBTQ+ community in schools.
“We’re going to protect children and their names and their identity,” Mangrum said. “Children should have the ability to choose that.”
Truitt said there are laws that protect LGBTQ+ students in public education and higher education that need to be followed. She said local superintendents are responsible for ensuring these laws are protecting LGBTQ+ students within their districts.
“Local superintendents are responsible for creating a climate in which students are treated equitably, fairly, with honor and grace and respect,” Truitt said. “That is, as state superintendent, the culture I will create in the workspace that I am responsible for, and I would expect nothing less from our local superintendents."
For more election coverage from across North Carolina, visit One Vote North Carolina, a collaborative of The Chronicle and six other student newspapers that aims to help college students across the state navigate the November election.