NC superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt gets max donation from millionaire who calls educators “criminals…who feed poison to students”

As the race for NC state superintendent enters its final week, Republican Catherine Truitt has just received the maximum donation from a source that is sure to raise eyebrows among supporters of traditional public schools:

Robert Luddy is a North Carolina millionaire who has founded a string of private and charter schools in the state.

His charter school Franklin Academy made news a couple of years back when complaints were lodged over language in its student handbook that read “promotion, affirmation or discussion of behaviors associated with the terms, ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity,’ including homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism, are expressly prohibited.”

Luddy has been quoted as saying that public schools are failing, and in a piece he wrote for the conservative publication American Spectator last month he said the problem is that “the U.S. education system has been coopted by Marxists who hate America”:

The last 20 years have ushered in a new America, which is moving away from God and traditional American values and replaced by an ever-growing government at all levels, squeezing out private initiative, a core strength of our country. Worse, the U.S. education system has been coopted by Marxists who hate America. They teach our children that America is an evil country based on racism and white supremacy. The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a shameful work of historical revisionism that insists that America was built on slavery, is now taught in schools across the country.

To paraphase G. K. Chesterton: the greatest criminals are educators who feed poison to students.

I have a feeling the thousands of North Carolina educators who have dedicated their lives to lifting our children up and providing them with opportunities would disagree with that characterization.

You know, the people that Truitt wants to lead.

Voters can help move NC out of the education Dark Ages

Tim Moore and Phil Berger, chief architects of the current NC public schools Dark Age

*note: this piece was originally published in the Charlotte Observer

When Tea Party Republicans took over state government in 2010, their veto-proof majority in both chambers of our General Assembly began an education policy Dark Age, churning out bill after bill that harmed our schools.

Legislators removed the cap on charter schools, and their number has since doubled.  These schools siphon money away from traditional public schools and increase racial and economic segregation, and they have failed to provide better alternatives for students who need the most help.

They cut master’s pay, making North Carolina the first state in the country to revoke advanced degree salary increases.

They slashed funding for teachers assistants.  We’ve lost 7,500 since the peak a decade ago.

Legislators created the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, sending tens of millions of dollars each year to unaccountable schools which are legally able to discriminate based on factors like religion and sexual orientation.

They defunded the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a high-quality source of committed, homegrown teachers.  

Lawmakers have blocked school construction bonds from ballots, despite favorable financial conditions and a documented $8+ billion in infrastructure needs.

They passed the Read to Achieve law, expanding testing and threatening 3rd graders with retention in an ill-advised attempt at addressing reading deficiencies.  When that didn’t work, legislators added bonuses for test scores which harm morale by ignoring the contributions many members of the team have to a child’s success.  Unsurprisingly, reading outcomes have not improved.

They stripped retiree health benefits starting January 2021, making it harder to recruit and retain good teachers in North Carolina at a time when enrollment in our state’s teacher preparation programs has plummeted 35% since 2013.

But arguably the most impactful change of all has been Republican tax policy.  

Over the past decade, state legislators have passed 6 corporate tax cuts and repeatedly cut income taxes in a manner that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest among us.  According to the NC Budget and Tax Center’s Alexandra Sirota, the estimated cumulative revenue loss during that time is $12 billion.  Those are dollars which could have hired teaching assistants or repaired leaky gym roofs.

Throughout the course of this Dark Age, one of the biggest overall failures of the Republican majority has been its approach to the process of governing.  Many of the aforementioned laws were passed in budget bills, meaning they didn’t go through a deliberative committee process but rather were written behind closed doors and then passed without any opportunity for meaningful conversations.  That’s not how effective policy is written, and it’s not the kind of government the people of North Carolina deserve.

When Governor Cooper was elected in 2016 and then the legislative supermajority was broken in 2018, I held out some naive hope that things might change and that there could be a new willingness on the part of House and Senate Republicans to work across the aisle because of the governor’s veto power.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way at all.  The fact that we’re still operating on the 2018 budget is clear evidence:  the toxic culture that developed under the supermajority, one in which loyalty to party trumps any desire for meaningful collaboration on behalf of North Carolinians, has continued unabated.  

A full decade of backwards priorities and terrible leadership has led to this crucial election at a time when our schools are desperate for change.  We need people in power who see public education as a human right and not a commodity.  We need leaders who truly believe that our children deserve the opportunities that a high quality public education can provide.  

Breaking the majorities in the House and the Senate will allow pro-public education legislators to end North Carolina’s education Dark Age and get to work building the K-12 education system we need.

Strings attached? Superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt’s campaign donations point to for-profit charter schools and EVAAS

If you want to know what a political candidate will stand for, just look at where their support is coming from.

State superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt was happy to accept some recent high profile support from President Donald Trump in the form of a shout out at his campaign rally in Greenville:

But while rubbing elbows with a serial misogynist and pathological liar isn’t a great look for someone who wants to lead K-12 schools, it’s Truitt’s campaign donations that might give some crucial insight into what her priorities will be for North Carolina if she wins.

Interestingly, 25% of Truitt’s donations have come from out of state, while 98% of her opponent Jen Mangrum’s donations are from North Carolinians.

Truitt’s top four donors (after herself) are here:

All of them have donated the maximum allowed under law, and their donations comprise just under half of her total campaign haul.

James Goodnight is the richest person in North Carolina and CEO of SAS, the company that produces EVAAS. For the uninitiated, EVAAS is a software system which uses standardized test scores to measure “teacher effectiveness.”

SAS has a contract with North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to provide that data which state legislators have used for the controversial school report cards and to offer cash bonuses to teachers in exchange for high test scores.

EVAAS is deeply unpopular among many North Carolina teachers who believe it’s ludicrous to focus solely on standardized test scores to measure the ways a teacher adds value to a student’s learning.

Ann Goodnight is James’s wife and director of Community Relations for SAS. She serves on the board of Best NC, a pro-business education reform organization which successfully lobbied for North Carolina’s current principal pay plan.

That pay plan–which uses EVAAS data to determine compensation–was so poorly conceived that the legislature had to pass a hold harmless clause to prevent a massive exodus of North Carolina principals as salaries could have dropped up to $20,000.

Goodnight also serves on the board of Cary Academy, a private school she founded with her husband which charges tuition of more than $25,000.

Jonathan Hage is founder and CEO of Florida-based Charter Schools USA, a for-profit “education management organization” with annual revenue of $750 million.

Charter Schools USA currently operates 7 charter schools in North Carolina, and it’s safe to assume Hage would like that number to go up.

Sherry Hage is married to Jonathan Hage and, until recently, served as Chief Academic Officer for Charter Schools USA. She is now CEO of Noble Education Initiative, a charter school management company which is headquartered right down the street from Charter Schools USA in Ft. Lauderdale.

Catherine Truitt’s principal donors are individuals who embrace the philosophy that education is a commodity that can be bought and sold. Those twisted values have filled their bank accounts with riches that most of us can’t even imagine, and they apparently see Truitt as their pathway to even larger piles of money.

Truitt’s opponent, Jennifer Mangrum, is a longtime elementary school teacher and current professor of education at UNC-Greensboro. Mangrum believes that education is a human right, not a commodity. She believes in strong traditional public schools and will not be bought by charter school magnates or software billionaires.

Those are the values we need leading North Carolina’s K-12 public schools.

“They’re not advocating for students.” Republican candidate for superintendent bashes NCAE

In a recent endorsement interview with the Observer’s Editorial Board, Republican candidate for state superintendent Catherine Truitt did not hold back on her disdain for North Carolina’s largest professional organization for educators.

During her unsuccessful bid for the Observer’s endorsement, Truitt falsely accused NCAE of excluding her from its own endorsement process and said “They’re not advocating for students.”

Truitt’s entire interview video is posted below, as is a transcript of her thoughts on NCAE. Those comments begin at the 16:19 mark.

Ned Barnett (Associate Editor): The favorite target of legislative Republicans is the North Carolina Association of Educators, who they sort of demonize as this union, and they sort of pass up no opportunity to go after.  Is it a healthy thing really to have an arrangement where this is a group that represents teachers and educators in the state, and just make them the enemy and have it be at loggerheads like that?  Or can you do anything to sort of ask them to talk with NCAE?

Catherine Truitt: I’m gonna have to disagree with the premise of your question there, respectfully.  So, I’ve had countless teachers reach out to me and say “This is not the same NCAE that I worked with 10, 15 years ago.”  This NCAE has been very vocal with the N & O in an interview last year that their plan is to move the organization towards union status, which is illegal in North Carolina.  Their Executive Director, who is not an educator, is an attorney from Ohio who was brought here to bring about collective bargaining which, again, is illegal in North Carolina.*  I don’t believe that… I think that the NCAE plays a valuable role for some teachers, providing fellowship and support their members.  We don’t even know what their real membership is because they’re not honest about their numbers with Auditor Wood.  And this group has an agenda which is not necessarily student centered.  Their agenda comes from Washington D.C.  It is a political agenda that represents one side of the aisle over another.  And I’m not denying that Republicans go after the NCAE, but it is certainly two-sided.  

I was not offered an interview with the NCAE for their endorsement. 

Ned Barnett: Did you request one?

Catherine Truitt: I should not have to.  I reached out to them to let them know that I have not re-… requested…  The candidate doesn’t request an interview.  I wasn’t even aware of how this process worked, because I’m a new candidate.  And so, when I did reach out to the NCAE and asked for them to prove that they had offered me this opportunity, they could not do so.  They claimed they had sent things to me in email.  And they could not produce an email that was sent to me to set up an appointment to receive an interview.  

Ned Barnett: So I take it that your answer is yes, that the contentious relationship would continue between the superintendent and the association of educators.

Catherine Truitt: What I would say is that I will always, as I did when I was Governor McCrory’s education advisor, I never turned down a meeting.  I am always willing to meet with the NCAE, and I would love for them to be in the room and have a role.  It’s up to them if they want to advocate for students.  They’re not advocating for students right now. 

Truitt’s unoriginal line about NCAE being a political front organization and not advocating for children is a tired, defensive talking point often parroted by state lawmakers who don’t like being criticized for a decade of terrible education policy.

But what’s this about being excluded from NCAE’s endorsement process?

Truitt first made this claim in a telephone call I had with her last spring at her request. During that lengthy conversation, Truitt told me NCAE was a partisan organization and, as evidence, said she hadn’t been given an opportunity to participate in an endorsement interview, insinuating that the organization would only consider endorsing Democratic candidates.

I told her I’d check into that for her, and as soon as we hung up the phone I contacted the folks at NCAE who handle endorsements.

Marge Foreman, NCAE’s Government Relations specialist, explained to me that contact information for candidates is taken from their official filing on the Board of Elections website and contact is made by email only if an email address is available. Candidate questionnaires are sent to every candidate for statewide office by snail mail, regardless of party affiliation.

Foreman said the next step is for candidates to respond to the questionnaire to indicate their interest in participating. For those who choose not to respond, that’s the end of the process.

Foreman was able to provide me with a screenshot of the actual mailing label that had been used to send Truitt’s questionnaire to the PO Box on her candidate filing:

Truitt was absolutely sent an NCAE candidate questionnaire but never filled out and returned it.

I immediately reached out to Catherine Truitt to try to clear up her confusion:

Truitt never responded to my email.

It’s disappointing that, as a candidate for statewide office, Catherine Truitt is continuing to peddle this false narrative in support of her claims that NCAE is a partisan organization, especially after I took the time to investigate and clarify a process that she herself admits she didn’t understand.

Apparently the truth didn’t fit Truitt’s narrative.

As for the Observer’s endorsement process, the Editorial Board just announced its support of Truitt’s opponent, Democrat Jennifer Mangrum. The Observer was uncomfortable with how Truitt aligned herself with Republican lawmakers on core issues and noted that Mangrum “separates herself from Truitt with her strong advocacy for public schools and teachers.”

*note: NCAE’s Executive Director is John Wilson, who was born in Burlington, NC and received education degrees from Western Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill. He was a long time Exceptional Children teacher.