Mark Robinson's Carolina Teachers Alliance - A Closer Look

I did a “deep dive” into some Google searching this morning to find out more about the Board of Directors of Mark Robinson’s new Carolina Teachers Alliance. To be an organization for educators, it seems to mostly consist of folks who are conservative activists.

Here’s a rundown of what I found - others could likely figure out more, particularly with their connections to other “dark money” conservative and evangelical groups around the state.

Amy Marshall
Executive Director, President, Founder

Her brief blurb at the CTA site describes her as “K-12 Educator & College adjunct”. I couldn’t find what college she’s affiliated with but she teaches at an online Christian school, the Alpha Omega Academy. Originally from Texas, has a BS in Biology from the University of Texas Arlington, and an MEd in History from Liberty University. On her profile page at the Academy, says the person she would like to meet would be “President Trump”.

Alpha Omega Academy describes itself as a “Christian Online Academy”, “Changing education for the glory of God.” It’s headquartered in Iowa.

Marshall’s Twitter feed is mostly retweets of Robinson and Phil Berger, with healthy doses of anti-mask and “reopen” nonsense. The account was set up in March 2020.

She has a similar account on Facebook.

Based on what I’m seeing, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s setting herself up to run for NC Superintendent of Public Instruction or another elected office in 2024.

A couple of recently formed Facebook only political groups dealing with education seem to be promoting Amy’s posts about CTS, Education First Alliance NC and Unity Commons Youth Alliance, which describes itself like this:

"We teach youth in Wake and Mecklenburg counties to appreciate traditional Judeo-Christian values by providing engaging and educational programing that counters anti-American, pro-Communism ideologies taught in schools and through the media."

Sandy Joiner
Vice President

Joiner’s blurb at the CTA website describes her as a “Software Engineer, Community Advocate”.

Joiner has basically been a local conservative activist in Wake. The mother of three kids attending school in Wake, she appeared at a news conference and got quoted several times wanting schools to reopen (here and here).

She’s also been involved in court cases concerning something called “MVP Math”. I’ve not kept up with that messy controversy, so I don’t know what’s up with that, but you can fall down that lawsuit and counter-lawsuit rabbit hole here and here.

Joiner was the campaign manager for Karen Carter, who ran for the District 5 WCPSS Board of Education . Joiner’s bio on a press release from the campaign reads:

"Sandy has had three sons in the Wake County Public School System. She volunteered as the parent Board Advisory Committee representative for three years and influenced several far-reaching student reassignment plans. She also volunteered on multiple Cary Town Council member’s election campaigns. Most recently, she worked diligently against the MVP math curriculum that is having a negative effect on student achievement and morale."

Her Facebook page is here. She works with a relatively new conservative group called Team aWake GOP, described as:

“The Republican Party cannot continue to fight a 21st century war with 20th century weapons. By implementing innovative programs in strategic areas, we can and we will strategically AWake Wake County.”

The organization has a website. Their plan, which can download as a PDF, is focused on developing technology, fundraising, and media strategies to recruit and build the Wake GOP. They have a page at their website devoted to “election integrity”, advocating Voter ID and looking for “fraud” in counting votes.

James Foltz
Board Member

Foltz has been a physical therapist for the past couple of years. Before that he was in the US Air Force. He’s on LinkedIn.

Steven Bergstrom
Board Member

Bergstrom ran for District 8 Wake County Schools school board in 2020. He’s a pilot and parent; he attended Brigham Young and got a master’s at American Military University in 2012. He served in the Air Force from 2004-2016.

Bergstrom’s Candidate Connection survey at Ballotpedia is worth a read. Amongst the usual concerns about education (including that MVP math thing again), he discusses his obsessions with “freedom” and the risk of socialism here in the US.

He also has a page on Facebook.

Christine Hale
Board Member

Hale is described on the CTA website as a “Realtor and Community Advocate”. She and her husband are real estate agents.

Overall, I have the impression that this is essentially a political group aimed at conservative Karen and evangelical parents who have definite opinions about every little aspect of their child’s education and who learned everything they know about teaching from reading Facebook and the Googles.

Basically, it’s those annoying “know it alls” that have gone from trying to take over the PTA to running for school board and spreading misinformation through social media, using many of the same tactics as those anti-vaxxer and anti-mask conspiracy nuts that have been causing so many problems with our COVID-19 response. It also shares some working methods with Art Pope's conservative "stink-tanks", dropping some high-falutin titles and degrees and bogus academic references here and there to create an air of legitimacy, if you don't look too close.

The big unanswered question here is where they (and Robinson) are getting their money.

Mark Robinson announced his candidacy for office in July 2019 and started making appearances earlier in the year to build up his profile. I suspect that the plans for this group starting coming together in early 2020 and solidified just after Robinson won the primary in March - note that the CTA's Executive Director, Amy Marshall, suddenly popped up on social media that same month.

Progressives need to be watching the CTA and individuals and groups associated with it closely. This really is starting to look like a very concentrated dark money effort to reshape NC's public education system - the CTA, to me, looks like a "front group" for a larger effort aimed at Facebook/Twitter organizing and getting candidates placed on local school boards.



And maybe ...

... some crowd photos from January 6th....

I don't doubt that you're correct...

that this is a dark money front group fostered by the usual rightwing suspects here in NC to push education policy that they favor. Since it's a 501(c)6 it can do almost unlimited "policy" advocacy (meaning advertising and lobbying) without revealing it's donors at all. Structuring the group this way and staffing it with this kind of useful idiot/malcontent/fanatic is pretty much par for the course in astroturfing an issue sector. Add to that the fact that these officers and BoD members are probably getting a nice bit of compensation from the organization as a sweetener and you have the perfect formula for the wealth behind Robinson to funnel large amounts of cash into getting the education policy they want. And you can bet that the policy will be the standard of the current rightwing/Trumpist GOP: undermine public education by attacking it's goals and cutting funding, fostering charter schools that are actually thinly disguised private schools to siphone off more money, and pumping money into blatantly private schools by "school choice" voucher programs. Underlying all of it are the twin motives of undercutting what they see as the liberal bastion of public education (and teachers as a part of that) and shifting those education dollars into the pockets of the very people behind this in the first place. The one thing it isn't actually about at all is providing anything like a better education for NC students.

The most frustrating thing...

... about this is that it's yet another extremist conservative dark money group that NC media outlets will legitimize with interviews, op-eds, and stories about their work, with no cautions at all about the fact that it's a political group of non-experts with an agenda funded by unknown parties.

Anyone giving them airtime or column-space without a boat-load of disclaimers and context deserves to be taken to the journalism woodshed.

Well, those journalists...

are just so happy that they have someone from "both sides" to "balance" their coverage that they never look the gift horse of the dark money group in the mouth. It is, as you indicate, journalistic malpractice to accept these groups and their rhetoric uncritically without telling their audience who they are (or rather who they aren't) and digging into their background and motives. If journalists actually did more of this and refused to deal with groups that hide who's behind them, we might actually have a more informed electorate instead of a system where anonymous cash can exert unwarrented control over the political process.