Secretive education nonprofit received federal paycheck relief funds

ARP Committee questions about $8M allotment reveal more detail about ‘High-Tech Learning Accelerator’ 

Logo for The Innovation Project

RALEIGH — An education nonprofit that funds itself in part through in “membership dues” paid for by school districts in North Carolina also received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds during the pandemic.

The Innovation Project (TIP) retained two PPP loans totaling $115,187; an ongoing loan of $60,940 and one for $54,247 which has a status of “paid in full or forgiven.” Information for both loans list just two applicable employees.

TIP’s most recent IRS 990 filings for the period ending June 2020 show the group took in gross receipts of $1,103,561. That filing shows two paid employees; President Ann McColl with a salary of $184,485 plus additional compensation of $16, 186 and Vice President Joe Ableidinger with a salary of $139,902 and additional compensation of $20,048.

Tax filings show that McColl and Ableidinger’s salaries increased between 2019 and 2020. In 2019, McColl’s salary was listed as $176,600 and Ableidinger’s at $137,012.

Executive total combined compensation in 2020 came to $360,621 or almost 33% of the reported gross receipts reported that year. The previous year, executive compensation came in at 34.7%.

The non-profit was previously reported on by North State Journal as having received at least $1.35 million from school districts around the state in for their respective superintendents to be members.

Large donations from various foundations have also been received by TIP since being established as a non-profit in 2017 such as a grant from W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s totaling $982,445. Around $150,000 in start-up funding for TIP was provided by the left-leaning Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Most recently, TIP was named in the most recent state budget signed by Gov. Roy Cooper last year. A total of $8 million in federal relief funds was allocated to TIP to create a “NC High-Tech Learning Accelerator.”

According to the state budget, the High-Tech Learning Accelerator is “an initiative to provide a network of place-based learning hubs for students with rigorous and experiential pathways for jobs in the technology industry.” Additionally, the program is supposed offer “summer immersion and out-of-school options, in addition to other student supports in a core program aimed at enhancing curriculum opportunities for work-based learning.”

While few details about the initiative were available at the time of the allocation, questions about TIP’s contract came up at a March meeting of the American Rescue Funds (ARP) Committee of Practitioners.

TIP’s Strategic Adviser Dr. Lynn Moody, the former superintendent for Rowan-Salisbury Schools from 2013 to 2020, gave a brief presentation to the committee which offered a bit more information, but seemed to be mostly a summary of a proposal created in March of 2021. Moody’s presentation has yet to be added to the Mar. 29 meeting document for the committee located on the N.C. State Board of Education’s Simbli website.

North State Journal was able to obtain a copy of TIP’s March 28, 2021, proposal document for the High-Tech Learning Accelerator (HTLA) initiative which describes a five-year timespan with year one being the “design and build process.” The document shows a limited launch in years two and three and a statewide launch in year five.

According to the proposal, TIP lists a project budget in for year one at $3,531,050. The project budget listed for year two comes in at $3,304,979. These estimates total $6,836,029 which is well under the $8 million in federal dollars TIP is being granted for the initiative.

“The HTLA will begin as a design-build initiative of The Innovation Project, a collaborative working group of forward-thinking K-12 school district superintendents and their teams. The focus of the HTLA are K-12 students in grade nine and above in the subject areas of computer science as well as ‘career clusters’ such as project-based learning including internships and group projects solving real-world problems; creating and scaling place-based learning hubs, micro schools, and academies; micro credentials and alternative transcripts; and competency-based education and related policies.”

HTLA’s student focus is actually more of an industry focus, with the proposal stating The HTLA’s Student Experience will evolve in response to industry needs, according to the group. Additionally, the proposal says the core curriculum will “incorporate extensive input from technology companies, higher education institutions, and K-12 educators.”

During the March 29 ARP Practitioners meeting, committee member Amy Marshall requested copies of the materials TIP submitted in order to acquire the $8 million in funds for the NC High-Tech Learning Accelerator as well as a line-item breakdown from TIP on how that funding will be spent.

About A.P. Dillon 656 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_