Twelve years of Democrat control over education has come to an end in the Tar Heel state. Republican Mark Johnson has ousted incumbent Democrat Dr. June Atkinson as the North Carolina superintendent of schools.
Johnson pulled in 2,262,977 votes or 50.63% and Atkinson received 2,207,020 votes or 49.37%.
Johnson won by a total of 55,957 votes. These totals are not yet finalized.
Atkinson was the longest-serving state school’s chief at the time of the election. Dr. Atkinson has been employed by the state of North Carolina in the field of education for around 40 years, beginning back in 1976.
Atkinson has served three terms as North Carolina Superintendent, first being elected in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2012. Atkinson’s election in 2004 against Republican Bill Fletcher was won by a very slim margin of a mere 8,835 votes.
Atkinson also served as the President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in 2015. The CCSSO is one of two non-governmental organizations who helped create, disseminate and promote Common Core. The CCSSO also owns the copyright on the standards.
In 2008, her victory over Republican Richard Morgan was far larger, winning by nearly 297,000 votes. 2012 brought Republican challenger John Tedesco, who fared worse than Morgan and lost to Atkinson by over 365,000 votes.
Johnson is a Forsyth County School Board member and former High School teacher at West Charlotte High School. He currently works as corporate counsel at a technology company called Inmar that is based in Winston-Salem.
Johnson bested J. Wesley Sills and Dr. Rosemary Stein in the primaries to advance to the General Election. Johnson campaigned on lessening the amount of standardized testing in the state, getting rid of Common Core and continuing to raise teacher compensation.
Earlier this year it was noted Johnson accepted the maximum donation from former New York Mayor and staunch Democrat, Michael Bloomberg.
Johnson also has ties to the controversial and politically motivated teacher prep group, Teach for America (TFA). TFA has been increasingly focused on increasing the amount of social justice issues pushed in public schools including support of Black Lives Matter.
TFA’s latest social justice push appears to be supported by TFA Alum Lisa Guckian, wife of Eric Guckian, the former Education Aide to Governor Pat McCrory. TFA appears to be assisting the call by O.N.E. Charlotte for implementation of the practice known as ‘restorative justice’ in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district.
So how did a three term incumbent lose?
Dr. Atkinson’s unwavering support of the increasingly unpopular Common Core State Standards was perhaps a key denominator in her defeat. Many parents reported that Dr. Atkinson was dismissive and resistant to hearing complaints from them.
In some cases, Atkinson outright insulted the public over Common Core.
In a 2013 letter to the News and Observer Atkinson said “Another important skill we endeavor to teach our children is the difference between propaganda and facts.”
That letter has since disappeared from the News and Observer website.
At a town hall event held in Cabarrus county in 2014, Atkinson openly accused anyone opposing Common Core to be lying about the standards.
“The 8th commandment tells us not to bear false witness and there is much false witness going on about the Common Core in this state.” said Atkinson.
Even now that Atkinson has lost, she is still insulting those opposing the standards. In an interview with WRAL published on November 14th, Atkinson took one more swipe at Common Core opposition:
“I have yet to meet a person who is against the Common Core standards who have read the Common Core standards,”
For the record, I’ve met Dr. Atkinson on several occasions. She knows very well who I am and that I oppose Common Core.
I’ve read the standards and Dr. Atkinson knows those who oppose Common Core not only do so because many of the line item standards are flawed and developmentally inappropriate, they also oppose the secretive way Common Core was created, adopted and are being implemented.
Another demonstration of Atkinson’s defensiveness of Common Core is the response Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest received to a letter he sent in 2013 to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
Forest sent Atkinson and DPI a letter with 67 questions and received “12 boxes containing approximately 40,000 sheets of paper”.
But that wasn’t all.
DPI referred him to 134 separate websites that each link to over 100 separate pages, more than 320 separate reports, hundreds of original source documents, over 40 presentations, 1 blog post, and a thumb drive. When broken down, DPI’s reply took 597 pages to answer each single individual question submitted.
Atkinson and DPI’s response was so outrageous, the Lieutenant Governor made a video about the experience:
In 2016, Atkinson and DPI even went as far as to push back on a bill that would allow for both Common Core math and traditional math to be offered in North Carolina schools.
Johnson came out against Common Core during the race and it likely helped push him over the top.
On his campaign site, he stated that, “Every year that goes by is another year our students and teachers are dealing with age-inappropriate standards. Where is the urgency at the top of our state education department to tackle these tough issues? Instead, our education leaders are okay with the status quo. More of the same cannot be the only option for our students and educators.”
Another area where Johnson may have been a more appealing option was in the arena of school choice.
Over the last four years, Dr. Atkinson in the past has made remarks along the lines of reining in homeschooling by controlling their testing:
With choice, should homeschool & private school students have to take the same tests as public school students? If no, why not? #HLR2015
— June Atkinson (@DrJuneAtkinson) January 12, 2015
Atkinson has also made misleading statements about funding for the increasingly popular Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The OSP program, which is designed for low-income students, has its own set of funding and does not raid public school funding.
In 2013, Atkinson inaccurately called the OSP program a ‘voucher’, stating that, “With the voucher legislation that we have we could be in dangerous territory as far as taxpayers’ dollars going to private schools.”
Atkinson continued and became hyperbolic, “There is nothing in the legislation that would prevent someone from establishing a school of terror.“
Atkinson’s tenure also had some major stumbling blocks like being called out by USA Today as the worst state for teacher screening, being caught by the General Assembly diverting funds for reading programs into keeping certain staff on board.
Those items are on top of the report from sources at DPI who say that DPI has failed to properly pay income tax in 2014, resulting in the agency having to make a deal with the Internal Revenue Service.
A letter obtained by this site corroborates that DPI has to pay the IRS roughly $249,527. However, sources inside DPI say the $249,527 amount is not the original figure owed and allegedly DPI owed a much larger amount.
Atkinson’s comments on Common Core, Homeschooling, School choice and the OSP were likely seen as an insult to many parents favoring school choice and educational options better suited to their children. Maybe her own rhetoric caught up with her and was a component of her defeat.
Maybe it was part of the ‘Trump wave’ enjoyed by other Republicans on the ballot. Maybe it was the mismanagement of fiscal issues. Or, perhaps, it was simply a rejection by some voters of the top-down, Democrat styled education policies Atkinson chose to champion.
North Carolinians will have to see what Mr. Johnson holds in store. He says he wants reform. He says he doesn’t like Common Core. He says he’s fiscally responsible. Will the state see more of the same bureaucratic baloney or will he actually clean house and change things up?