In 2010, an alliance of conservative republicans took over the North Carolina legislature for the first time in 100 years and are now implementing legislation which can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is no coincidence this occurred in 2010, because this was the year the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United, and the Republican takeover was financed by North Carolina multimillionaire Art Pope.
A new North Carolina law that establishes a new State Board of Proprietary Schools went into effect January 1, 2012, at the same time it was being reported in the news that Kaplan College was surrendering its license to operate its Charlotte dental assisting program after the school was caught misrepresenting accreditation status to students.
It seems that the exposure of misconduct at for-profit Kaplan College's Charlotte dental assisting program has shined a light on Pope, ALEC, and other conservative advocacy groups, which are implementing an anti-education agenda with racial overtones in North Carolina under the guise of “liberty and free enterprise.”
The problems at Kaplan's dental assisting program raise questions about the wisdom of North Carolina Senate Bill 685, which passed quietly last June in the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill created a new State Board of Proprietary Schools, which has the authority to license and regulate for-profit trade schools and colleges which grant certificates and associate degrees.
Senate Bill 685 transfers the licensing and regulation of for-profit colleges and trade schools from the North Carolina Community College System (NCCS) to the new State Board of Proprietary Schools. According to legislation, the new board is made up of seven members, four of which must come from the for-profit educational industry, establishing a system of self-regulation by and for the for-profit college industry.
This new law effectively dismantles regulatory oversight. It could be model legislation related to one of Americans For Prosperity's objectives: to establish separate licensing commissions outside of the State Department of Public Instruction.
While North Carolina was busy handing over licensing and regulation of for-profit colleges to for-profit colleges, Kentucky was busy doing the opposite; they were introducing House Bill 308 to change a similar regulatory scheme in the state whereby six of 11 seats on a for-profit state board were held by for-profit college insiders.
New North Carolina Regulatory Board Stacked With For-Profit Operators
While the new North Carolina regulatory law stipulates that a minimum of four board members must come from the for-profit college industry, at least six of the new board members herald from the for-profit school sector.
Reviews found online about the new North Carolina board members' own schools raises questions about the new board's ability and willingness to regulate the for-profit college industry, of which they are part.
As an example, the following review is of Kings College, the former school of new board Chairman Robert Hodge. While the identity of the reviewer cannot be verified, this example, along with the misconduct at Kaplan dental, illustrates the concern with having the for-profit college industry regulate itself.
By jonn16054 at Citysearch, March 29, 2009:
“I am in the Network Administration and I really regret going to King's College. I thought I would get real hands on and a good quality education. I knew not to expect anything great since it is a 2 year college, but ever since I started, I've had nothing but complaints! They use old books (still learning about 2000 and XP!), and teachers (I won't say which) don't know the curriculum. The school is not worth going to! Many other students and I went to the administration to complain but didn't get any answers! They just sat there and shook their heads like if they understood! Then the week after, they asked us to make a school film to promote King's College! They really don't care about the students in their school, all their [sic] interested is in the money. I feel like I haven't learned anything and 36 Grand in the hole!”
John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and the Rationale for the New Law
On January 15, 2012, two writers, Jay Schalin and Duke Cheston from the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, reported the following reasons for the creation of the new for-profit State Board of Proprietary Schools.
The State Board of Community Colleges, the NCCCS staff, and the Association of Proprietary Schools, a trade association, approached the North Carolina legislature together to push for the new board;
the legislature made deep budget cuts in education and the NCCCS was eager to stop paying the salary costs of staff members who conducted the licensing procedures;
North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) executive vice-president and chief of staff, Kennon Briggs, felt that NCCS oversight of for-profit colleges created something of a conflict of interest, for the community colleges directly compete with proprietary schools for students;
- New board chair Robert Hodge said that the system office sometimes moved too slowly for the high energy entrepreneurs who own such schools.
According to Hodge, most owners make decisions and want to take action quickly. But then they have to apply for a license, and the government bureaucracy would take a lot of time to process the applications. “We thought that if we had our own board,” Hodge continued, “we could eventually turn applications around within 30 days.”
The argument that it is a conflict of interest for NCCS to regulate for-profit schools is devoid of logic and redolent of political pressure. The Association of Proprietary Schools, a trade association, which lobbied for the new law, is headed by Brookstone College President Jack Henderson, who happened to get himself appointed vice chair of the new board. Apparently, this is not a conflict of interest.
The rationale was that the legislature made deep budget cuts, leaving the NCCCS eager to stop paying the salary costs of staff members. The fact is, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis slashed North Carolina's community college budget, manufacturing a crisis, and then privatization of public education was proposed as the solution. A page from the ALEC playbook.
New board Chair Hodges' statement that the board seeks a 30-day licensing process to accommodate high-energy entrepreneurs should raise red flags. The purpose of a regulatory board is to ensure standards are met to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry, not to promote profiteering.
It appears that North Carolina is destined to repeat the problems at for-profit colleges that Kentucky is now trying to remedy.
The John William Pope Center for Higher Education is funded by millionaire Pope, and wraps itself in the rhetoric of free markets, individual responsibility and limited government. Their agenda includes reducing public spending on higher education. This includes the world-renowned Chapel Hill campus.
In 2010, The Pope Foundation proposed tying college financial aid to SAT scores, a proposal which represented a thinly veiled attack on minorities because African-American and Hispanic students more frequently come from a lower-income background and lower-income students tend to score lower on standardized testing.
Thom Tillis and Tom Apodaca Are the Legislators Behind SB 685
The legislators responsible for Bill 685 are Tom Apodaca and Thom Tillis. Apodaca is chairman of the powerful rules committee in the North Carolina Senate and a member of ALEC's education task force. He sponsored Senate Bill 685. Tillis is speaker of the House and ALEC's 2011 Legislator of the Year. He shepherded Bill 685 through the House on the first reading with no revisions.
Led by Tillis, the North Carolina General Assembly has promoted an ALEC agenda which includes cutting the education budget in North Carolina by one-third; the North Carolina Voter ID Act (voter suppression); Senate Bill 727, to stops the North Carolina Association of Educators from collecting union dues from teachers' paychecks via payroll deduction; and a repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which allows death sentences to be reconsidered if they involved racial bias.
In addition to the new board of proprietary schools, Senator Apodaca has sponsored Senate Bill 8; no caps on charter schools; Senate bill 74, to allow North Carolina community colleges to opt out of providing direct federal loans to students; Senate Bill 595, the Voter ID Act; Senate Bill 106, Defense of Marriage Act; and a resolution honoring Jesse Helms. Apodaca also voted in favor of Senate Bill 205, no benefits for illegal aliens. It is as if Apodaca photocopied ALEC and Americans For Progress playbooks and introduced them as legislation. Apodaca and Tillis are two of 50 North Carolina legislators affiliated with ALEC. They are part of a cohort, which seems to be promoting an anti-education agenda with racial overtones.
The objective of Bill 685 , to dismantle regulation and help high-energy (mostly white) entrepreneurs maximize profits extracted from low-income (mostly minority) students, has more than a hint of plantationism. Nowhere is there any discussion of educational standards.
For-profit trade schools and colleges represent a system of educational facilities populated mostly by low-income minority students, who are recruited because of their eligibility for Pell Grants and Title IV student loans.
These schools are characterized by high student debt, low graduation rates and degrees which are generally viewed as inferior in the job market, where program cost is three to five times the price of community colleges, and 50 percent of tuition goes to marketing and profits.
For-profit colleges represent a separate and unequal educational system, a racist proposition, which turns the clock back 60 years on Brown v. Board of Education.
The Self-Anointed Pope of North Carolina
Pope is a product of Citizens United. In 2010, his money helped elect 18 republicans to the North Carolina legislature, resulting in Republican control of both legislative bodies for the first time in 100 years. Seventy-five percent of outside spending in the 2010 North Carolina election came from groups tied to Pope.
Pope's intervention in the 2010 election enabled ALEC foot soldiers Tillis and Apodaca to mount an assault on public education and minorities.
Pope is a millionaire, who inherited his family business Variety Wholesalers, a chain of discount stores mainly found in neighborhoods with median incomes of less than $40,000, and a population that is at least 25 percent African-American.
Pope takes the money earned from minority communities and channels it to a network of right-wing advocacy groups openly hostile to the interests of these communities. These groups include Pope-Civitas, John Locke Foundation, the Pope center for Higher education and the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service.
Many of Pope's actions appear to be racially motivated. Pope funded the defeat of John Snow, the legislator who sponsored the Racial Justice Act and the advocacy groups which promoted the North Carolina voter ID act. Pope also supports school board candidates in Wake County who oppose the county's school diversity/desegregation program.
Pope is a cautionary tale of how Citizen's United has allowed a single individual to influence the politics of an entire state, and how large sums of money corrupt democracy.
The first article in this North Carolina series described how Virginia Foxx touted the efficiency and efficacy of for-profit college after receiving donations from for-profit colleges. Thanks to Kaplan College's bungling at the Charlotte North Carolina dental assisting program, we now know Foxx was merely reciting talking points from Pope and ALEC.