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What's at stake for education in the NC Superintendent of Public Instruction race?

A classroom of nine young students. A teacher at the front of the room next to a monitor is pointing at a raised hand.
Amy Diaz
The North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction can’t enact or change laws themselves, but they do have some influence in their position– overseeing how funds are administered, and highlighting for lawmakers what the problems are.

Two Republicans and three Democrats are running for North Carolina superintendent — a role overseeing the state’s public education system.

According to Dani Parker Moore, the director of the Schools, Education and Society minor at Wake Forest University, it’s a race to watch.

“We're in a perfect storm of thinking about public education," she says. "A new governor, new superintendent, parents' rights advocates bills, the expansion of vouchers to go to private schools, and our current governor has sounded the alarm that public education is under fire."

So what exactly is the state superintendent’s role?

According to the North Carolina Constitution, one of their responsibilities is to serve as a secretary to the State Board of Education.

“Our State Board of Education is made up of 11 members that the governor appoints. There's people in there, like Teachers of the Year, there's Principals of the Year, there's attorneys," Parker Moore says. "So those people, they kind of monitor what's happening in the state. They make choices based on funding.”

The superintendent has to attend the board meetings, keep members informed of things happening in public education, and make recommendations.

They also have to supervise the Department of Public Instruction. DPI is charged with leading local districts, developing the content of courses taught in North Carolina schools, and administering state and federal public school funds.

The superintendent is also responsible for reporting to the Governor 30 days before each regular session of the General Assembly.

“And they have to really include the stats of public schools with recommendations for improvement and changes in the school law," Parker Moore says.

So the superintendent can’t enact or change laws themselves, but they do have some influence in their position overseeing how funds are administered, and highlighting for lawmakers what the problems are.

“Part of it is like, the lens in which you see the world," Parker Moore says. "So it's like, what do you define as a problem? Whose problem? How do you see the problem?”

For Democratic candidates, C.R. Katie Eddings and Kenon Crumble, teacher retention and compensation are top priorities.

Maurice Green, who was the superintendent of Guilford County Schools for more than seven years, also highlights the need to revere teachers, fully invest in public education, and celebrate the good work happening in public schools.

The Republican candidates — homeschooler Michele Morrow, and the incumbent, Catherine Truitt, who was a classroom teacher for 10 years — share concerns around instruction related to race, gender, and sexuality.

Truitt is also a proponent of expanding school choice, and has been endorsed by organizations advocating for charter and private schools.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina President Mike Long says he’s been happy with Truitt for precisely that reason.

“Parents want to be able to have the freedom and mostly the economic freedom to be able to choose a school that best meets the needs of their children," Long says. "And often, the school that is assigned to them in the neighborhood they live in, does not meet those needs.”

The state constitution specifies that the superintendent oversees the public school system. North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly says supporting public education needs to be the superintendent’s priority, which is why NCAE endorsed Maurice Green for the job.

“We know that the state superintendent of public instruction’s role is critical in shaping the narrative around public school, boosting morale and respect for public school educators," she says. "And also utilizing critical resources and strategies to support our North Carolina public school students.”

Whoever is elected state superintendent will have the ability to influence the direction of funding, policies, and laws pertaining to public education. But how much power they ultimately have may depend on who else is elected in North Carolina this year.