One the biggest upsets of this 2024 primary was the defeat of long-time educator and Republican Catherine Truitt, superintendent of public instruction. She lost the Republican primary race by nearly five points to Michele Morrow, a homeschool instructor and conservative activist with a strong grassroots ground game.

The upset came as a surprise to many Republicans; Truitt had name recognition, a substantial campaign war chest, and executive experience running one of the largest government agencies in the state. However, in hindsight, the loss could’ve been predicted. Public frustration among Republican parents has been resonating for more than three years, as parents struggle to understand low test scores and hard-skills gaps, with a nearly simultaneous push to prioritize gender and racial identity in curriculum. Many were also shocked to see school boards openly defy the Parent’s Bill of Rights state law. Demands for change are loud, but tides are turning too slowly for many.

Despite the double-digit growth in North Carolina’s population, traditional public school enrollment has dropped 3.6% since COVID, while public charter schools have grown 4.9% in just the last year.

Truitt, whether fairly or not, became the face of the problem for these voters. This primary vote was bigger than Truitt or even Morrow. It signals a near-universal desire for huge change in public schools, and parents want it quickly. They have precious few years to educate their children, and no one wants their child to be the cautionary tale.

This race also exemplified the power of grassroots-based campaigning over fundraising-based campaigning. Morrow stumped with parent and political groups across the state, pushed lawmakers to pass the Parent’s Bill of Rights, spoke openly in opposition of Critical Race Theory-based lessons in public schools, and promised to ban DEI initiatives. She is a true believer, and her supporters felt that in the room.

Meanwhile Truitt was running DPI, working to right a giant, listing ship badly damaged by COVID shutdowns. She’s been a strong advocate for charter schools, magnets, and giving parents more of a voice, but all while walking the tightrope that traditional public schools currently serve about 90% of the students in the public school system. She worked the mechanics of the day-to-day, while trying to build a return to basics of education, like phonics.

But critics thought she was squeamish on CRT and DEI and didn’t oppose school closures loudly enough. When she asked lawmakers for more time to implement the Parent’s Bill of Rights, advocates of the hard-won legislative victory saw it as walking back her support for it.

This race, like most primary races, comes down to facetime with voters and hearing them sound the alarm in person. A primary voter is deeply engaged and, in 2024, is more conservative, more skeptical of all government agencies, more frustrated with the damage caused by COVID shutdowns, and more likely to choose the unknown over the known. That is exactly what primary voters did in this case.

Here’s the problem: a general election voter is different, and the stakes are very high going into November. Morrow will face Democrat Maurice “Mo” Green. Green’s Democrat, liberal activism, education status quo, anti-school choice pedigree is impeccable.

Green is the outgoing executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, having led the far-left organization from 2016 to 2023. ZSR is among the largest funders of liberal activism in the state. Before that, he spent seven years as the superintendent of Guilford County Schools. He is endorsed by Democrat establishment heavyweights like Jim Hunt, Bev Perdue, the NCAE, and the NC AFL-CIO.

A general election voter will look at that background and not see the red flags that a primary voter might.

Media outlets like the News and Observer and Charlotte Observer are already going after Morrow, painting her as an “extremist” and “a threat to public schools.” It’s worth noting that those papers have also endorsed Green.

Reading between the lines is easier for those who are close to politics and these issues. Green’s platform is to “invest fully in public education, revere public school teachers, and to celebrate the good in public education,” among other points. Morrow’s platform includes infusing “fiscal responsibility, school safety and discipline, and parental rights,” into the behemoth state education system.

Carolina Journal will never endorse a candidate, rather we watch closely for public policy and platforms that shape the quality and efficiency of our education system. Parents and students deserve an innovative education system that allows students to freely shape their own destinies.