Darrell Allison is a “school choice” advocate appointed to the BOG in 2017. An alumnus of NCCU and UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, Allison filled a seat on the BOG that had been vacant since former chairman John Fennebresque quit; the NC Senate voted 46-0 to appoint him. Allison also served as an NC Central trustee and now chairs the BOG’s committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions. In 2018 Allison became the national director of State Teams and Political Strategy for American Federation for Children, an organization once led by Betsy DeVos.
Allison is the former president, co-founder, and lobbyist for Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), a Raleigh-based advocacy group founded in 2005 and part of the larger school privatization movement. In his position at PEFNC Allison put forth an expansive notion of school choice in North Carolina. He penned dozens of op-eds supporting private school vouchers with the common refrain of North Carolina “simply doesn’t educate our poor children well.”
After the Republican takeover of the NCGA in 2011 PEFNC’s agenda finally had a legislative platform and enjoyed major political victories: eliminating the charter school cap and having the state pay for private school vouchers. Legislators eliminated the cap on charter schools in 2011 and passed the Opportunity Scholarship Act two years later in 2013.
Allison was a vehement supporter of the Opportunity Scholarship Act from its inception to its passage. The legislation, co-sponsored by BOG member Rob Bryan, siphons taxpayer dollars away from public schools to pay for private school vouchers. Initially struck down in court in 2014, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled a year later that vouchers were legal; two dissenting Democrats said that the scholarship violated a constitutional provision that public money can only be spent for public purposes. Allison applauded the decision, calling it “liberation for low-income students,” “a tool for social justice,” and after it passed in 2013, and a “resounding victory for choice.” Supporters of public schools however called the 2013 budget an “aggressive campaign to privatize public education.”
“Education is ultimately a personal right belonging to our citizens, not a governmental agency or system.”
The legislation was deeply controversial. Yet despite concerns about giving families money to attend (largely unregulated) private schools, Allison claimed the legislation was “accountable and transparent” and a “life preserver for students drowning in academic failure.” Allison maintained that low-income students have the most to gain from vouchers because working-class and middle-class families were able to exercise their right to choose whereas previously only wealthy families could. PEFNC even paid for mailers that said “our state now provides money for private school. Now YOU have a choice!” Notably, PEFNC stood to gain revenue from the legislation because it sought to be a scholarship-granting institution (SGO). Although Allison stated that PEFNC becoming an SGO is “not about us making money.”
Allison vocalized in 2017 that the goal for PEFNC was to have one third of the legislative Black Caucus membership join a coalition supporting school choice.
Allison also has served on the Board of Directors of Achievement for All Children, a group tied to wealthy charter school donor John Bryan. Rob Bryan is also on the AAC Board. Allison was also founder of a charter management company that hoped to run Aristotle Prep, a Mecklenburg County charter school. Allison and Rob Bryan put together a company that they said could save Aristotle Prep, which had been mired in academic and financial issues. The school was part of John Bryan’s Team CFA network.
Joe Maimone, who once said public schools are “milking” federal school lunch dollars, was invited to speak at a rally for National School Choice Week by Darrell Allison.
Allison is committed to the“school choice” movement even in the face of controversy. In 2010 the staff of the UNC Center for Civil Rights published a report about the uneven racial makeup of public charters. Duke University has since came out with a study showing that charters increase segregation. Allison dismissed these reports as “shortsighted and incendiary,” noting that it was “false and disingenuous” to say charter schools perpetuate segregation. In 2011 he claimed that student achievement “supersedes” diversity and dismissed criticism of charters for being richer and whiter than traditional public schools. Allison said that comparing traditional and charter schools “creates a distorted picture” because “charter schools don’t have the resources to create diverse schools.” In response to criticism that private schools, specifically Christian schools, discriminating against LGBTQ students get taxpayer money, Allison defended the program and said it was created to help students.
However, Allison strategically distances himself from critiques of public schools altogether. He said he is not a member of the “small minority of people” who believe that public schools are inadequate and not worth investment. Instead, Allison called private school vouchers an “extension of public education” and rejected the notion that charter schools are a form of privatization. He has said that charter schools are public schools and in fact, more accountable.
Allison and fellow BOG member Harry Smith were named in a whistleblower lawsuit when a N.C. Central University administrator claimed he was wrongly fired after raising concerns that Smith and Allison tried to steer a housing deal to a company Smith has done business with in the past. The vice chancellor for administration and finance, Benjamin Durant, alleged that he was wrongfully terminated because he voiced concern over a multimillion-dollar development contract for the school. His suit specifically alleged that Smith and Allison arranged a meeting with Chancellor Akinleyee, and that Allison suggested that the school work with a specific firm, the Preiss Company of Raleigh, for a public private partnership. Durant accused Smith and Allison of having “secret meetings” and trying to steer NCCU toward a $90 million to $120 million contract to one of the largest developers of off-campus housing in the country.
Allison was on the steering committee for Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign and once said of Trump “I’m morally offended by everything he does.”
Allison is one of the five members nominated by Smith to a committee that will work on a plan for Silent Sam. He abstained from the BOG vote on the litigation ban at the UNC Center for Civil Rights because he was “torn between his head and his heart.”