Watching Tuesday night’s election results roll in real time was an excruciating experience for North Carolina educators.
After a long, pandemic-style campaign season where education advocates worked so hard to influence outcomes on behalf of public schools, we were filled with hope that we were on the brink of big change. Some of us believed that we were about to take back one or both chambers of the General Assembly and the superintendency. I entertained the notion that I would wake up on Wednesday to a new reality with people in key positions of power who share the view that strong public schools are the foundation of a democratic society, people who want to partner with teachers to create policies that lead to better outcomes for our kids.
Early votes showed up first and gave cause for optimism. Then in-person votes began to be tallied, and the long, slow, inevitable burn that we’ve become so accustomed to in North Carolina set in. That feeling that the tide is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
By the end of the night here’s what the political landscape looked like for public education:
*Our next state superintendent will be Catherine Truitt, an individual with a clear pro-charter and privatization agenda who has a history of disparaging education advocates and throwing stones at NCAE.
*Our lieutenant governor is going to be Mark Robinson, a homophobic conspiracy theorist who doesn’t believe systemic racism exists and who makes Dan Forest look almost reasonable.
*Dan Folwell stays on as treasurer. He’s got a history of playing reckless games with state employee health care and a troubling lack of empathy.
*Republicans will retain their majorities in both the House and Senate, and it’s likely that Phil Berger will stay as the leader of the Senate and continue to unilaterally block any real progress on education policy issues.
I’m going to be honest–my initial reaction on Wednesday morning was to question all the time and effort we put into this election. The endless hours of researching and writing, phone banking and working the polls, just to end up at the same point where we were started.
Then I started my teaching day, and I was immediately reminded of my “why.”
I looked into the faces of my students and thought about their many needs which are going largely unmet by a system that cares more about stuffing money into the pockets of corporations than giving them the high quality education their constitution demands.
The truth is, we do have some things to be grateful for. We re-elected Roy Cooper and not Dan Forest, who had vowed to immediately lift mask requirements and push everyone back into school at a time when COVID infections are dangerously high. Republicans didn’t take back the super majority, which means Cooper still holds veto power over troublesome legislation. It’s not the disaster we were experiencing five years ago in this state when Pat McCrory was governor and legislators could do whatever they wanted.
Howard Zinn famously remarked “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” And as we enter the next chapter of North Carolina’s history with Phil Berger still wearing the conductor’s hat, those of us who have dedicated our lives to serving children in public school have a choice. We can just sit down in exhaustion and defeat and let it play out.
Or we can lean on each other, roll up our sleeves, and continue to fight for the schools we all deserve.