The Kochs in North Carolina: School Choice and the Opportunity Scholarship

Education has always been critical to North Carolina, from the research triangle to the state’s renowned network of higher education institutions. It’s what has set the Tar Heel state apart from its Southern brethren. But the Koch agenda runs in striking opposition to the state’s history on this key issue.

Beyond supporting a budget that gutted public school funding and eliminated 13,000 education jobs statewide, the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity has been demonizing public education in the Tar Heel state for years.

In 2011, AFP cohosted “A Celebration of School Choice and Freedom” event where they screened a documentary about, as they describe, “the corruption in public education and the promise of school choice.” They later applauded the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, North Carolina’s first “school voucher program,” which would divert public funding to private schools. When a judge suspended the program, the Institute for Justice, another organization founded with assistance from Charles Koch, quickly appealed.

AFP-North Carolina And The Civitas Institute Hosted “A Celebration of School Choice and Freedom” Event. According to a legislative alert Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina, “Meet your Legislators and the incoming State House Majority Leader Paul Stam face-to-face at Americans for Prosperity’s Celebration of School Choice and Freedomreception and a viewing of The Cartel on Thursday, January 27th during National School Choice Week (January 23 – 29). Let them know you support increasing the number of public charter schools and other school choice options available to parents. At the 6pm reception, you will have a chance to discuss school choice with your legislators and others. At 7pm, the movie viewing will begin. The Cartel is an award-winning documentary about corruption in public education and the promise of school choice.” [, 1/25/11]

AFP-North Carolina Launched A “Charter School Tour Aimed At Focusing On The New Opportunities Provided By Public Charter Schools.” According to a press release from Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina, “Americans For Prosperity Foundation–North Carolina is launching a Charter School Tour aimed at focusing on the new opportunities provided by public charter schools ever since the General Assembly eliminated the cap on charter schools in 2011. The tour will kick-off this Friday, February 28th, from 10am – 12pm at the Douglass Academy located at 507 North Sixth Street, Wilmington, NC 28401.” [Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina Press Release, 2/26/14]

AFP-North Carolina Applauded The Passage Of North Carolina’s “First School Voucher Program,” The Opportunity Scholarship. According to a press release from Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina, “Americans for Prosperity, one of the state’s leading voices for educational freedom and reform, congratulates both chambers of the General Assembly for including the [sic] North Carolina’s first school voucher program in the state budget, among other significant education reforms. ‘This budget allocation for opportunity scholarship is a giant step for giving North Carolina families true educational freedom,’ said Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina State Director. ‘Other states, such as Indiana, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, have made real advances in school choice in the past two years, and it’s good to see that North Carolina is catching up.’” [Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina Press Release, 7/22/13]

The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program Was Based On An ALEC Model, And Under Its Terms Corporations Would Receive Tax Credits For Donating Money For Vouchers. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, “The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program would allow corporations to donate to nonprofits that would provide scholarships of up to $4,000 per student. In turn, the corporations would receive tax credits allowing them to divert a total of up to $40 million of their state taxes next year, and even more in the future. While proponents of the approach say it improves educational access, critics charge that the programs — which are based on a model drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing corporate interest group funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers — drain money from public coffers to benefit private institutions.” [Institute for Southern Studies, 6/6/12]

A North Carolina Superior Court Judge Suspended The Voucher Program In February 2014. According to the News & Observer, “The legislature’s plan to give parents taxpayer money to send their children to private schools suffered a setback Friday when a Superior Court judge granted opponents’ request to suspend the program. Lawyers representing taxpayers, the N.C. School Boards Association and local school boards argued that the state constitution prohibits using public money to pay private K-12 school tuition.” [News & Observer, 2/21/14]

The Institute For Justice Was Appealing The Voucher Program’s Suspension. According to the News & Observer, “Dick Komer, the lawyer from the Institute for Justice, a Libertarian law firm representing the parents, said he would appeal Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s decision.” [News and Observer, 2/21/14]

The Institute for Justice Was Founded With Assistance From Charles Koch. According to the New York Times, “They soon got their chance. After stints in Washington with the Reagan administration, in which Mellor was a deputy general counsel at the Department of Energy and Bolick was an assistant at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (then led by Clarence Thomas), the two men, in 1991, persuaded Charles Koch, an oil and gas magnate, to give them $350,000 a year in seed money from his private foundation to start the Institute for Justice.” [New York Times, 4/17/05]

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation