Privatization of Public Schools

Highlighted Members:

Darrell Allison
C. Philip Byers
Rob Bryan
Steve Long
Thom Goolsby

Organizations:

American Federation for Children
Achievement for All Children
Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina
Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy
Americans for Prosperity
Challenge Foundation
Education Freedom Alliance
Challenge Foundation Properties

Multiple members of the BOG are deeply connected to the school privatization movement through employment, board memberships, and lobbying.

Their involvement in legislative changes that resulted in both expansion of a charter school network in North Carolina and the funneling of public dollars to private schools (two prongs of the school privatization movement) is robust. 

BOG members’ connections to the school privatization movement span over a decade. Darrell Allison and Steve Long were co-founders of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), a Raleigh-based advocacy group founded in 2005 that lobbies broadly for “school choice.” Allison was on the front lines of changing the educational landscape in North Carolina. In his position as the president and lobbyist for PEFNC, Allison put forth an expansive agenda in North Carolina that included expanding the charter school network and supporting private school vouchers in the lead-up to legislative action. 

BOG member C. Philip Byers is embedded in perhaps the most well-resourced charter network in the country.

In 2006 after his law enforcement career ended, Byers became the Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Community Education Foundation, which is funded by the Challenge Foundation. The Challenge Foundation is a $37 million family trust of wealthy conservative donor John Bryan used to fund the charter school network “Team CFA.” Bryan uses the Challenge Foundation not only to fund and spread the conservative “school choice” movement across the country, but also to back right-wing causes. While his network is nation wide, he “fell in love with North Carolina” and threw his money behind a charter school expansion law in the state. 

A few years later Byers became Board Chairman and Founding Board Member at  Lake Lure Classical Academy, a Challenge Foundation Academy, in 2009. He has since served on the board of multiple Challenge Foundation schools. In May of 2011 he joined the board of PEFNC under the direction of Darrell Allison. Byers currently serves as President for Challenge Foundation Properties, a “charter school facility consulting service” that  leases facilities to charter schools at low-interest rates. 

After the Republican takeover of the NCGA in 2011, the organized and well-resourced school privatization movement finally had a legislative platform and enjoyed several political victories.

The Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly wasted no time in eliminating the cap on charter schools in 2011, a goal many “school choice” lobbyists had sought for decades. Two years later, the legislature filed the “Opportunity Scholarship Act” to create private school vouchers. The legislation was co-sponsored by BOG member Rob Bryan (no relation to John Bryan) and folded into the 2013 budget signed by Pat McCrory.

Darrell Allison lobbied heavily for the Opportunity Scholarship Act’s passage in his capacity as a director and lobbyist for PEFNC. Critics of the legislation note that vouchers pull “desperately needed money” away from public education and funnel it to private schools not held to the same educational standards. Additionally, vouchers allow taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for unregulated private schools that are permitted to sanction discrimination on religious grounds. 

In 2015 NC Policy Watch Reported that C. Philip Byers was the N.C. representative for Education Freedom Alliance, a group created by John Bryan in 2013 as an offshoot of TeamCFA. As Bryan explained here, EFA was designed to be “the legislative and political arm of TeamCFA’s school choice efforts.” John Bryan also tapped former Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity state director to run the organization. Americans for Prosperity spent at least $7,300 on Rob Bryan’s election campaign in 2012.

To make matters more complex, BOG Member Thom Goolsby lobbied on behalf of the Education Freedom Alliance in 2015, which was behind efforts to create the ‘Achievement School District’ designed to allow charter school operators to take over the state’s poorest performing schools. Rob Bryan is, conveniently, a board member of Achievement for All Children, a Charlotte-based charter organization that is also connected to John Bryan. Rob Bryan later co-sponsored House Bill 1080 Achievement School District,” which turned over five struggling schools to charter school operators despite a similar plan’s failure to remedy student performance in Tennessee. The bill, passed in 2016, faced widespread criticism for “dismantling public education” and being a “sketchy plan” that failed in another state. Later, Achievement for All Children was hired to manage the takeover of an elementary school chosen for the renamed Innovative School District. In short, Rob Bryan pushed legislation while he was in the House that later benefitted his organization. 

Meanwhile, Darrell Allison is now the national director for state teams and political strategy for the “school-choice” organization American Federation for Children (AFC), which was partially founded and chaired by controversial US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. American Federation for Children also donated $100,000 to help re-elect Paul Newby, a conservative North Carolina Supreme Court Justice. 

In sum, at least one fifth of the members of the UNC BOG have ties to the controversial “school choice” movement largely funded by conservative mega-donors. 

Sources