NAACP protest of Civitas workshop underscores philosophical differences on education policy

by Keith Barber

The Rev. William Barber (center), president of the North Carolina NAACP, and the Rev. Carlton Eversley (right) spoke outside the Forsyth County Education Building during an NAACP protest of a budget workshop co-sponsored by the John W. Pope Civitas Institute and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools on April 14. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

Holding signs that read, “Civitas and its policies are wrong for NC,” “Public education is an investment for all Americans,” and “Civitas Action is not training, it’s brainwashing,” a group of 45 protestors from the NAACP picketed a budget workshop co-sponsored by the John W. Pope Civitas Institute and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in Winston-Salem on April 14.

During a news conference, the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, laid out the reasons for the protest.

“Civitas, funded by Art Pope, is an ultraconservative, extreme, right-wing think tank funded by his money — money he makes in the African-American community,” the Rev. Barber said. “Their handprints are all over this recent budget that came out [last week] in the state government. They’re going to gut education; they’re going to cripple our economy.

It’s going to have a tremendous and disparate impact on poor children and African-American children. It is the policies of race and class and the politics of race and class.”

According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, Civitas Action, a 501(c)4 organization, poured $196,272 into the 22 targeted political contests in North Carolina this fall and 72 percent of the $264,890 Civitas Action reportedly raised this election cycle came from Art Pope’s family retail business, Variety Stores. The rest came from Americans for Prosperity, of which Pope is a director. The group spent nearly $285,000 in the 22 North Carolina races.

Real Jobs NC, which was founded by Art Pope, received notoriety for its attack ads during the 2010 midterm elections. The political action committee pumped nearly $1.5 million into targeted state races. Real Jobs NC received $200,000 from Pope’s Variety Stores, according to the Institute for Southern Studies analysis. raised this election cycle came from Art Pope’s family retail business, Variety Stores. Art Pope is a member of the board of directors of Americans for Prosperity. The group spent nearly $285,000 in the 22 North Carolina races.

Theo Helm, a spokesman for theWinston- Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said 27 people attended last week’s budget workshop, including three members of the Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County school board — Buddy Collins, Jeannie Metcalf and Jill Tackaberry — and two members of the Wake County school board — Ron Margiotta and John Tedesco.

Tedesco stated in an email that he was not aware of Civitas Action’s political activity or the political contributions made by Art Pope. Tedesco pointed out that school board members are required by state law to receive 12 hours of training annually, and last week’s workshop granted participants four hours of credit. Passed in the early 1990s, the legislation stipulates that professional training be provided by the NC School Boards Association, the UNC School of Government or any “qualified sources at the choice of the local board of education.”

Tedesco said attending last week’s workshop was simply a matter of meeting those continuing education requirements.

“Our [board] members have participated in [training sessions] hosted by authorized groups — some of those groups have a liberal leaning and some a conservative leaning but to be authorized the trainings have to be standard, recognized, and open to all board members and acceptable as standard training,” he said.

“We have had [Democrats] on our board attend previous Civitas trainings and we have had [Republicans] attend other trainings from more liberal groups — we just need the hours from an approved provider.”

Tedesco described the budget workshop as informative and nonpartisan.

The three speakers at the budget workshop included Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation; Phil Price, chief finance officer at the NC Department of Public Instruction; and Kerry Crutchfield, the retired director of finance for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

John Dornan, former president of the NC Public School Forum, was scheduled to be one of the speakers at last week’s workshop. After learning of the Civitas Institute’s involvement, however, Dornan withdrew from the event.

“While I believe in a free exchange of ideas and respect the right of any would-be think tank, be it Civitas or the Public School Forum, to hold views contrary to my own, I do not agree with Civitas when it comes to their stance on public schools and would not knowingly help them advance their views,” Dornan wrote in a letter to Superintendent Donald L. Martin.

Tackaberry said she was only able to attend a portion of last week’s workshop, and based on what she heard in the seminar, characterized the NAACP protest as “irresponsible and overblown.”

Barber said the NAACP objected to last week’s training session because budgets are “moral documents, and that everything Civitas endorses in education, the NAACP opposes.

“We know that Civitas and its policies, whether it be vouchers, whether it be lifting the cap on charter schools and taking money from public education or whether it be this policy of neighborhood schools that they promote, which is nothing more than a nuanced 21 st century name for re-segregation, is wrong for North Carolina,” he said.

The Rev. Carlton Eversley, president of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem, said there has been an increase in the number of “racially identifiable” schools in the school system since Republicans gained a majority on the school board 17 years ago, and when education budgets are slashed, African-American and Latino students are disproportionately impacted. Eversley said the “re-segregation” of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has created a host of issues for minority students, including discipline issues. Eversley pointed out that African American males make up only 15 percent of the student population but comprise 45 percent of all students suspended out of school. Helm confirmed Eversley’s statement as accurate.

“This is the kind of thing we are faced with; this is the kind of thing Civitas funds and this is the kind of thing we don’t want to see here,” Eversley said.