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Superintendent Mark Johnson will run for Lt. Gov., so who’s running for superintendent?

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has announced that he will run for Lieutenant Governor in 2020, opening up the Republican spot in the superintendent race. 

“North Carolina deserves a leader who will fight to make all government more accountable, more efficient, and more transparent. That’s why today I am declaring my candidacy for Lt. Governor of North Carolina,” he said in a statement. “I’ve seen first-hand how bad state government can be. I’ve already been in the trenches fighting the deep state in state bureaucracy.”

Johnson, a Republican, beat the incumbent, Democrat June Atkinson, in a surprise win in 2016. The beginning of his term was marked by a legal battle and tension with the State Board of Education over new powers granted to him by the North Carolina General Assembly. Recently, controversy over the state’s pick of a new reading diagnostic tool, Istation, has also put Johnson on the defensive

But he also undertook a statewide listening tour, visiting districts around the state to get a sense for the education landscape and to see what innovations schools were using. In addition, Johnson worked with the legislature to get money for teachers to buy their own classroom supplies, oversaw an audit and reorganization of the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), and used unspent state money to buy iPads for K-3 reading teachers.

“NC DPI was a broken system focused more on protecting the Establishment’s status quo standards, tools, and strategies. They were content to stand in place rather than move forward,” he said in his statement.
“North Carolina should be a 21st century leader, but we can’t do it with the relics of a 20th century bureaucracy. I want to take the fight to the next level. If you want more of the same, vote for someone else. If you want to continue the fight for change, vote Mark Johnson for Lieutenant Governor.

“This campaign will be about what’s best for the working families of North Carolina, not the Media Elites or Establishment Insiders.”

Right now, there are a host of Democrats who have announced their candidacy for superintendent of public instruction. 

They are: 

  • James Barrett, a school board member in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
  • Amy Jablonski, leadership development and research project director at SWIFT Education Center (and formerly of DPI).
  • Constance Lav Johnson, an educator and activist in Charlotte.
  • Michael Maher, assistant dean of professional education at North Carolina State University.
  • Jen Mangrum, a University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Education associate professor who unsuccessfully took on Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in last year’s election.
  • Keith Sutton, vice chair of the Wake County Board of Education.

Two Republicans, Catherine Truitt and Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, have expressed interest in running if Johnson did not campaign for superintendent again. 

Horn, a chair of both the House education K-12 and education appropriations committee, holds a lot of sway on education matters in the General Assembly. Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina, has held numerous education-related position, including as a former teacher, turnaround coach, associate vice president of University and P-12 Partnerships at UNC General Administration, and senior education advisor to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. 

Truitt said she is now definitely running for state superintendent. She said she will make a formal announcement soon.

“I am interested in being my own candidate and look forward to showing my ability to be collaborative and to work with all of the people in our state who are wanting to do what’s best for students,” she said. “My candidacy will be about how we can make decisions about education reform in North Carolina through a student-centered lens.”

As for Johnson deciding not to run, she said she was not surprised. 

“The rumors have been swirling around for several months,” she said. “And I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Horn said he will make a decision this week as to whether he will run. 

“I’m trying to make the decision based on what I believe to be in the best interest of the kids of North Carolina,” he said. 

Horn said he has some reservations about running, particularly because of how contentious the education debate has become in North Carolina. 

“I woke up this morning determined to not run. The idea of getting into a statewide race with all the crap that I’m afraid will spew forth … Do I really want to put up with all that?” he asked. “On one hand, no, heck no, why should I? … At the same token, the only thing on which to base a decision is outcomes for kids.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.