NC Education Corps requests $500,000 grant

Request is part of a projected $3.2 million budget for 2021-2022

Volunteers participate in a virtual meeting with N.C. Education Corps staff. Image via N.C. Education Corps

RALEIGH — At the April 8 meeting of the N.C. State Board of Education, the group training volunteers to support school districts and their students due to the pandemic asked for $500,000 grant to continue operations.

The N.C. Education Corps (NCEC) requested the half million in grant funds which will be disbursed by the N.C. Education Fund. According to the grant request documentation, NCEC’s total project budget is “$3.2 million for F.Y. 2021-2022.”

The original purpose of NCEC was to recruit volunteers to fill various support and liaison roles within school districts struggling to keep up with instruction, food delivery and communication with families during the pandemic. It now appears that support will be expanded and extend into the foreseeable future.

The purpose for the grant is to “help launch North Carolina Education Corps (NCEC) as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization to support K-12 students in the wake of COVID-19; specifically, to help NCEC engage, educate, and support “corps members” as tutors who provide whole child and academic supports to public school unit students across North Carolina in alignment with the North Carolina State Board of Education’s 2025 strategic plan.”

“Our focus moving into next school year is recruiting, educating, and supporting corps members who will work as early grades literacy tutors grounded in the science of reading,” said the email from Smith and newly appointed NCEC Board Chair Mike Ward. “Not only is this meant to assist with learning recovery. It also is meant to advance the early childhood literacy work championed by Senators Berger, Ballard, and Lee among others in the Excellent Public Schools Act and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.”

NCEC was formed last fall by John-Paul Smith, the group’s program director. It was made known during the State Board of Education meeting that Smith had been hired as a salaried executive director. In an email to North State Journal, Smith said his compensation will be $130,000 a year. Smith holds an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler and a Master of Public Policy from Duke University.

According to grant request documentation, the NCEC has had only three paid employees for the tax year May 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. The combined compensation of those employees was $51,667.

The group expects to expand to 25 employees over the next fiscal year — a 733% increase. Compensation estimated for those employees is $1,613,333, representing a nearly 3,022% increase. With benefits and tax factors added in, the estimated compensation for staff increases to over $2 million.

Operating costs will also rapidly rise. The NCEC spent $210,886 for the past fiscal year but estimates those costs to rise to $1,161,075 in the upcoming fiscal year, which is around a 450% increase.

Smith expanded on the half-million grant request, stating it would be used to continue to “execute on our mission,” and growth goals.  Two areas NCEC will use the money is for a “focus on K-3 literacy in 2021-2022.” Smith said they are targeting 25 districts and are aligning with DPI’s literacy initiatives.

NCEC estimated the cost for K-3 Literacy tutors starting at $3.32 million for 25 districts in the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year. That cost is expected to increase as more districts are included, reaching $7.7 million by the fiscal year 2023-24.

Smith said during the April 8 meeting that NCEC was “pulling off a triple play.” He said the program was a COVID response that was “creating jobs and human capital development” and is “catalyzing educational equity and opportunity.”

The NCEC presentation noted that there were now 200 NCEC members severing in 20 districts. Ward also said that NCEC had a target “early on” of deploying 1,000 Corps members but told State Board of Education member that target won’t be fulfilled for two years.

NCEC will use the money for a “focus on K-3 literacy in 2021-2022.” NCEC estimated the cost for K-3 Literacy tutors at $3.32 million for 25 districts in the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year. That cost is expected to increase as more districts are included, reaching $7.7 million by the fiscal year 2023-24.

NCEC began recruitment efforts in November of 2020, a process that had issues with placement in some districts. Smith told North State Journal that there were over 1,100 applicants submitted through and 649 official applications through the NCEC website as of mid-December last year. Those applications appear to have not panned out.

Money from private donors

The original funding for NCEC came from the governor’s office in November of 2020. Gov. Cooper released around $100,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which is part of the federal CARES Act.

During the board meeting, state board chairman Eric Davis noted that the current funding for the program is coming through the N.C. Education Fund, which is being used as a “holding fund.”  The grant money will actually first come through FAST NC which “accepts donations through the existing NC Education Fund.”

The steering committee for FAST NC includes Ward, a Democrat who served as N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1996 to 2004. He said they have raised “significant funds” from foundations and that those funds have been “directed to the State Board’s North Carolina Education Fund.” He did not elaborate during the board meeting as to which organizations had supplied funds or any dollar amount.

Ward and Smith told North State Journal in an email that NCEC is “supported in part by private philanthropy.”

“Multiple grants from foundations have been deposited to the State Board of Education’s N.C. Education Fund to support the North Carolina Education Corps program,” said Smith and Ward in an email. “North Carolina Education Corps’ private donors made their commitments with the understanding that their grants eventually would be transferred into an independent nonprofit set up to manage the North Carolina Education Corps program long term.”

North State Journal filed a records request with the Department of Public Instruction for a list of donations made to the NC Education Fund from August 2020 through April 1, 2021. The request produced four donations totaling $900,000.

  1. $500,000.00 – Foundation for the Carolinas (01/12/2021)
  2. $100,000.00 – C D Spangler Foundation INC (01/28/2021)
  3. $200,000.00 – SECU Foundation (02/23/2021)
  4. $100,000.00 – Mebane Charitable Foundation Inc (03/31/2021)

Smith and Ward confirmed these donations in an email to North State Journal.

Other FAST NC steering committee members include June Atkinson, former State Superintendent; Eric Davis, State Board of Education Chairman; Henry Johnson, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and former Mississippi State Superintendent; Mark Johnson, former State Superintendent; and Phil Kirk, former State Board of Education Chairman.

Davis also thanked Smith for starting the 501c3 process “a while ago” because that process can take a while.  Smith, in fact, filed paperwork with the N.C. Secretary of State in August of 2020, a month before the program was announced at a State Board of Education meeting. That paperwork listed Smith as the CEO of “American Ripples,” a 501(c)3 established on Aug. 24, 2020. Among his past experience, Smith included four months working as a “consultant” for Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.

Board of Directors formed

“As NCEC prepared to organize as an independent nonprofit, potential board members were identified by the team that provided the initial leadership for the NCEC, including Eric Davis, chair of the State Board of Education. Advice from leaders in education non-profits, foundations, and other organizations was also sought,” Smith and Ward told North State Journal about the formation of the NCEC board of directors.

During the State Board of Education’s April meeting, Ward told members that NCEC is “mindful of the origins of the North Carolina Education Corps with the state board and the governor’s office” and that they are “mindful of our desire to work in close concert with the board’s original vision for the North Carolina Education Corps.”

Board members for NCEC include Cooper’s former N.C. Department of Justice staffer Caroline Farmer, a Democrat. Farmer will be secretary for the board. Cooper appointed her to the NC Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in 2017. She was also Governor Hunt’s Agency Liaison and Director of Highway Beautification.

“VolunteerNC, a part of, the N.C. Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, will help with recruitment and administration for the new Education Corps program,” said Farmer in Cooper’s press release announcing the formation of NCEC.

Susan Jamison, a Republican, will serve as treasurer. She is the owner of “Wealth Matters LLC” located in Charlotte and according to her LinkedIn resume she is a “Family office consultant focused on planning for high net worth families, family offices and firms that serve them.” Prior to starting Wealth Matters in 2014 she was a VP tax advisor to Belk.

Republican former House Rep. Craig Horn, and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, also a Republican, are board members. So are Democrats Anthony Jackson and Mariarosa Rangel.

Jackson has been the Superintendent for Vance County Schools since 2015), is a member of the NCSU Friday Institute’s advisory board and was the 2020 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year.

Rangel is the director of Family and Community Engagement for the Office of Equity Affairs in the Wake County Public School System. Additionally, she serves on the governor’s Hispanic/Latino Affairs Advisory Council.

NCEC’s board of directors is a part of a larger 20-person board of advisors, according to Ward. He said that former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt and former Republican Gov. Jim Martin have agreed to be honorary co-chairs of that advisory board. Ward didn’t say during the state board meeting who else was taking part in the larger advisory board, but Smith said in an email that a formal press announcement would be issued before the end of April.

About A.P. Dillon 1251 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_