A Look at the Roots of Secret Education Nonprofit ‘Membership Dues’ – The North State Journal

Senator Gerry Hancock and Sherwood Smith – image via Public Schools Forum website

RALEIGH – A secret education nonprofit with stated “equity” goals that is funded in part by membership dues paid by school districts statewide using money of Taxpayers was created as a project by a Raleigh law firm.

The Innovation Project (TIP) “officially began on July 1, 2015,” according to the group’s website. The organization was co-founded by Gerry Hancock and Ann McColl as “a service of the Raleigh Law Firm, Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP.

In addition to TIP, Hancock also founded the education website EducationNC with Ferrell Guillory, who is director of the public life program and professor of practice at UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and serves as vice-president of Education NC.

According to Everett Gaskins Hancock’s website, “The firm’s attorneys have been instrumental in forming such notable nonprofit organizations as the North Carolina Public Schools Forum, the North Carolina Center for Biotechnology Nord and EducationNC, and have successfully advocated on behalf of the North Carolina Consortium of Low-Income Schools to enforce every child’s right to a strong basic education.

The company’s website does not list The Innovation Project among its accomplishments, but does state that one of their lawyers was the founding chairman of the company for over 30 years. North Carolina Public Schools Forum, an educational nonprofit that says its “main purpose” is to “speak truth to power”. The attorney involved was Hancock, who at the time was a senator in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The Public Schools Forum’s mission is “to provide reliable, non-partisan, evidence-based research, policy analysis, and innovative programs that empower an informed public to demand that best practices in education become a common practice throughout North Carolina”.

Similar to the TIP, the “about pagenotes that he also received his seed capital from the leftist Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Notably, Hancock was one of the attorneys who started the long-running Leandro case that began in 1994 in the Hoke County School District. Years before, Hoke County Superintendent Bill Harrison recruited Robb Leandro to serve as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit Hancock was preparing. At that time, Hancock was an attorney with the Low Wealth Schools Consortium, a group of high-poverty school systems in the state. Hancock’s lawsuit ended up bringing together superintendents from four North Carolina counties to sue the state for failing to meet its financial obligations to students in those districts.

Other organizations, Everett Gaskins and Hancock, are among his “communityThe page includes the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Advisory Board and the North Carolina Common Cause Board of Trustees.

The firm also represented Roy Cooper when he was state attorney general in a case of 2009 involving the “Dogwood Gun Club” and a semi-annual pigeon hunt.

McColl was hired into the company as part of its education practice group. Prior to joining Everett Gaskins Hancock, McColl was general counsel for the NC Association of Educators, an offshoot of the National Education Association, one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions.

She has also served as legislative director of the State Board of Education, as well as legal counsel for the North Carolina Association of School Administrators and the North Carolina School Superintendents Association.

In the fairly recent past, McColl was notably involved with the school board of the Halifax County School District in a case concerning the reinstatement of the contract of a former superintendent, Dr. Elease Frederick, whom McColl represented.

A North State Journal investigation of TIP found that the group funds itself in part with taxpayer dollars by charging dues to public school districts.

Some 33 districts have been identified as having ties to the TIP and the North State Journal found that 29 of those districts made payments to the TIP totaling $2,048,800 million for the period from 2017 to 2021.


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