Proposal would give politically connected nonprofit unprecedented control of NC charter school expansion funds
A recent state House budget proposal would give Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (Parents), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that advocates charter school expansion, the right to distribute $2 million of taxpayer money to nascent charter schools in North Carolina over the next two fiscal years. Parents wants to disperse charter schools throughout the state, rather than in the urban centers where they have previously often been established, according to Parents president Darrel Allison. This proposal, if implemented, would buck the norm of typical funding programs in which the state ordinarily dictates to nonprofits how they should use money that they receive.
The plan has been criticized for giving a private group too much influence over public education in the state. While the proposal would not allow Parents to use this money to directly fund its own initiatives, such influence would likely attract increased funding to the group from outside foundations, Allison told the AP.
The proposal follows an election cycle in which Parents and affiliated nonprofit Partners for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (Partners) spent over $360,000 on lobbyists and other lobbying expenses. Partners and yet another group, N.C. Citizens for Freedom in Education IE PAC, are closely linked to and share an address and some staff with Parents; these affiliate groups combined to spend tens of thousands on direct contributions and independent expenditures that benefited representatives who have proposed charter school expansion bills this session. Together the three organizations have received hundreds of thousands of dollars of support from the Walton Family Foundation and the American Federation for Children, which promote charter schools.
The million-dollar grant to Parents for Educational Freedom was originally proposed as a standalone bill, H535. Two of the bill’s sponsors, GOP Reps. Rob Bryan and Brian Brown, benefited from independent political expenditures of over $17,000 and $25,000 respectively from N.C. Citizens for Freedom in Education. The bill’s third sponsor, Democratic Rep. Cecil Brockman, received a campaign contribution of $750 from Partners.
While expanding funding for charter schools, the Senate’s budget proposal does not currently include a provision that would give Parents this power.
By Aidan Coleman