North Carolina school board race results are a strong reminder that, despite the reopening of schools and loosening of pandemic restrictions, the parent revolt continues in the state. Parents across many North Carolina counties feel unheard, that their choices within schools are infringed upon, and, most importantly, that students’ basic educational needs are not being met. And they aren’t pushing back.
On Nov. 8, parents across the state expressed this dissatisfaction with their votes in local school board races.
In fall 2020, parents were forced to become involved in school board meetings at an unprecedented level. Parents united to question school reopening policies and raised alarms over loss of instructional time. They formed groups to strategize. Parents’ eyes were opened to politically driven, controversial curriculums and invasive surveys.
Concerns were validated two weeks before election day with the release of The Nation’s Report Card. North Carolina reading and math scores declined from 2019, with 4th grade reading and math falling five points and 8th grade math and reading falling 10 points and six points respectively. It was clear that students faced a tragedy of learning loss.
According to EdNc, 290 school board seats were up for election in 83 districts. Of those races, 41 were partisan. Republicans won 75% of those races to Democrats 25%. Several counties moved from a Democrat majority to Republican.
Progressive campaigns focused on additional funding for schools, equity programs and policies, and elevating criticism of concerned parent voices. Conservative campaigns centered on academics (particularly learning loss), school safety, transparency, parent partnerships, and improving teacher satisfaction and retention.
In Wake County, where five of nine incumbents did not seek reelection, Republicans gained two seats. Wing Ng, who defeated Doug Hammack in D3, focused on parent engagement and transparency, school safety, learning proficiencies and support of educators. Doug Hammack, endorsed by North Carolina Teachers Association, focused on “polarization,” with “screaming fits,” and addressing the “hissy-fit approach,” to school-board meetings in his campaign.
Parent groups got involved in campaigns. The New Hanover County Tide Turners endorsed candidates whose campaigns aligned with their four pillars: academics, parental rights, transparency, and fiscal responsibility. Newly elected Josie Barnhart credits the Tide Turners and positive campaigning. The New Hanover County board flipped from a majority Democrat to Republican.
Craven County — where Republican candidates also took a majority — strategized, collaborated, and listened to what was important to constituents. Jennifer Dacey knocked on 4,000 doors to discuss academic shortfalls, safety, and students. Dacey won by 66 votes.
Michelle Antoine, an advocate and mother of seven who won a close race in Johnston County, said, “My race was won by being bold, along with staying engaged for years through writing and advocacy. Truly, voters want public servants that will work for the people.”
Republican-endorsed candidates won all three open seats in Johnston County.
The North Carolina Association of Educators, despite having less than 17% of educators affiliated, has the financial resources and political expertise to its advantage. But they came up short.
School board wins were led by grassroots efforts of outraged parents unwilling to take more of the status quo. Shortfalls and weaknesses in the North Carolina public school system have been exposed. If the school-board election outcomes are an indicator, the grassroot parent revolt is here, and its impact is growing.
Editor’s note: A correction was made to show that Wing Ng ran and and won in District 3 not District 6.