The North Carolina Parent Teacher Association, Public Schools First North Carolina, the Public School Forum of North Carolina and the North Carolina League of Women Voters sponsored the forum featuring Democrat Jen Mangrum and Republican Catherine Truitt. WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie moderated the event.
Although both candidates pledged to make students their top priority, the partisan nature of the election quickly surfaced.
Mangrum, a former classroom teacher who now is an education professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, repeatedly criticized Republican legislative leaders, saying they are more interested in boosting a voucher program to fund private schools instead of putting more money into public classrooms.
"Everyone knows we're underfunded, so I don't understand why [Senate leader] Phil Berger and that leadership, with [current Superintendent of Public Instruction] Mark Johnson and my opponent, want to not pay up and do what's right for our kids."
"Public schools need saving from the system in which they exist because that system is designed to get the results we are getting," said Truitt, who served as education adviser to former Gov. McCrory and now is chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina, an online college.
"No matter how much money we have given or not given, nothing has changed," she said. "We have not moved the needle for all kids in North Carolina for over 30 years. Every year we wait to change this system is a year that we contribute to failing another generation of students."
Truitt said she has had to work with lawmakers and the State Board of Education in her various roles, making her more qualified to lead the state Department of Public Instruction. But Mangrum noted that Truitt has been appointed to some positions, making her more beholden to her Republican supporters and less willing to work across the aisle.
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