Both NC Democrats and Republicans have primaries in superintendent’s race. What to know.

The battle to lead North Carolina’s public schools is putting issues such as school choice, education funding, learning loss, Critical Race Theory and the Parents’ Bill of Rights in voters’ faces.

The two Republican candidates for state superintendent of public instruction are positioning themselves as conservatives who largely support the education decisions taken by the GOP-led General Assembly. The three Democratic candidates are running as critics of state lawmakers.

Incumbent Republican Superintendent Catherine Truitt and Democrat Mo Green are the clear fundraising leaders. But they’ll need to win the March 5 primary to face off against each other in November.

“I’d definitely call them the frontrunners,” David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College and director of the Meredith Poll, said in an interview. “If it’s a mid-30s (percent) turnout race then frontrunners will usually win.

“But things could happen. It could be a really low turnout year. It looks likely that Green and Truitt will win their primaries.”

The role of the superintendent

The superintendent is the head of the state Department of Public Instruction. That puts the superintendent in the role of overseeing public school systems in the state.

The superintendent has gained more power since 2016. State lawmakers shifted power away from the State Board of Education after Democrat Roy Cooper was elected governor.

For instance, the superintendent will take over the administration of high school athletics if an agreement can’t be reached with the N.C. High School Athletic Association or another organization..

The incumbent

Truitt, 53, was elected superintendent in 2020. She has been a classroom teacher, school turnaround coach, senior education advisor to former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and chancellor of the online Western Governors University North Carolina.

Catherine Truitt, incumbent and candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction
Catherine Truitt, incumbent and candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Truitt began during the COVID-19 pandemic, where she pushed for all schools to reopen quicker for in-person instruction.

She lobbied for the state’s adoption of the “science of reading,” a phonics-based approach to teaching reading that every elementary school teacher is being required to learn. Truitt has credited the new training with helping to improve reading scores among elementary school students.

Truitt has backed increasing teacher pay. But, over the objections of the N.C. Association of Educators, Truitt supports a plan that would pay teachers based on their effectiveness — such as their students’ test scores — instead of their years of experience.

At her urging, state lawmakers passed a new law that increases the criminal penalties on school employees who engage in sexual misconduct with students.

Truitt has defended the right of for-profit companies to manage charter schools. At a recent rally that promoted the expansion of the state’s private school voucher program. Truitt told attendees that “being pro-school choice does not conflict with being pro-public schools.”

Truitt supported the new state law barring transgender females from playing on girls’ sports teams. She also supported the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which prevents instruction on gender identity in early grades, among other regulations, but has drawn complaints from some for getting state lawmakers to give school districts an extension to Jan. 1 for following the law.

The superintendent has split from some members of the GOP in supporting school calendar flexibility and in wanting to change how schools are graded by the state.

Republican challenger

Michele Morrow, 52, is calling herself “the only conservative” running in the Republican primary for state superintendent. The registered nurse, home-school parent and former missionary is an activist working with groups such as Liberty First Grassroots and the Pavement Education Project.

Michele Morrow, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction
Michele Morrow, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Morrow was among the Trump supporters who protested in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, but says she did not storm the Capitol Building. During her unsuccessful run for the Wake County school board in 2022, Morrow apologized for past social media posts such as saying “ban Islam” and “ban Muslims from elected offices.”

She says her plan is to “Make Academics Great Again” in North Carolina by prioritizing scholastics and safety over Critical Race Theory and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). Morrow has accused public schools of indoctrinating students, “teaching children to hate our country” and training students in “transgender theory.”

If elected, Morrow says she will “make sound basic moral instruction priority number one.” Morrow also promises that “you better believe that our teachers will be well versed in the true history of our great nation.”

Morrow lists several local school board members in her endorsements, including Laura Blackwell of Cabarrus County, Danielle Hayes of Granville County and Robert Levy of Moore County.

In contrast, Truitt lists several state and congressional Republicans in her endorsements, including U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx; state Sens. Phil Berger and Ralph Hise; and state Reps. John Bell, Destin Hall and Jason Saine.

Morrow’s ability to get our her message is limited by how she had raised less than $8,000 through the end of 2023. Truitt had raised more than $280,000.

“Truitt is the incumbent and has got such a big money lead,” McLennan said. “I don’t think she’s made enough enemies on the Republican side to lose, but she has some.

“Morrow is the insurgent candidate. Her position about schools being woke and teachers teaching subject matter that’s not appropriate has a constituency.”

Democratic primary

The Democratic primary has been less contentious, as Green runs against Kenon Crumble and Katie Eddings.

Maurice Green, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction
Maurice Green, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Green, 56, is an attorney who went on to become superintendent of Guilford County Schools before retiring as executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Green’s endorsements include former governors Jim Hunt and Bev Perdue, former state Superintendent June Atkinson and U.S. Reps. Alma Adams, Kathy Manning and Deborah Ross.

Green lists among his campaign pillars fully investing in public education, revering public school educators and celebrating the good in public education.

Kenon Crumble, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction
Kenon Crumble, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Crumble, 46, is a Wake County assistant principal who unsuccessfully ran for the Johnston County school board in 2020. His strategic plan calls for revolutionizing the infrastructure inside school buildings, enhancing teacher recruitment and compensation and implementing universal pre-kindergarten.

Katie Eddings is a candidate in the 2024 Democratic Primary for North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Katie Eddings is a candidate in the 2024 Democratic Primary for North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Eddings, 62, is a Lee County high school teacher and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Much of her platform revolves around improving teacher retention, recruitment and compensation, including increasing pay for both new teachers and experienced educators.

Campaign finance reports show Green had raised more than $227,000, compared to less than $2,000 for Crumble and just $375 for Eddings.

Candidate questionnaires

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer asked candidates running in contested races in the primary election to fill out a candidate questionnaire. That includes the Republican and Democratic primaries for superintendent of public instruction, and all five candidates participated. Find responses from the candidatesby visiting

Kenon Crumble

C.R. Katie Eddings

Maurice “Mo” Green

Michele Morrow

Catherine Truitt

How to vote in the primary

Registered Democrats and Republicans will vote their party’s ballot in the March 5 election. Unaffiliated voters can choose which party’s ballot to vote.

There are no third-party candidates running for state superintendent this year.