“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.

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