Teachers in state Senator Jeff Tarte's district will no longer get to compete for $200,000 in state money for classroom projects.
The budget set aside $200,000 for distribution to teachers in 35 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. Although it wasn't spelled out, those schools are all in the newly redrawn 41st Senate district, where Tarte, a Republican, faces Democratic challenger Natasha Marcus in November.
That district, which runs from the northern suburbs along the county's western edge to the southern tip of Mecklenburg County, is viewed as one where the Republican supermajority risks losing a seat.
But the Republicans who hatched the plan didn't consult with DonorsChoose, the New York-based charity designated to receive and distribute the money. Faced with political controversy and a task that doesn't fit the group's mission, DonorsChoose officials declined to participate after learning about the allotment on Twitter.
"We cannot accept the funding outlined in the budget provision unless it’s changed to equitably support teachers and students throughout North Carolina," DonorsChoose tweeted to people who had questioned the project. "We're grateful to Senator Tarte for looking to support students and teachers in his district. But other districts (including those with more students from low-income households) would not receive such support, which makes this budget provision feel against the spirit of our mission to fight education inequity and to serve where the need is greatest."
Tarte said Thursday there's no replacement process to get the money to his district's teachers.
"It is sad and unfortunate that persons worked to politicize and take these monies away from teachers in my district for incidental classroom supplies that they often pay for out of their own pocket," Tarte said. "Ironically these persons claimed this was for political purposes, but never did I publicize or mention that I was helping teachers in my district."
After the Observer made the connection, many educators who had been puzzled by the list of beneficiaries voiced outrage over what they called a classic pork-barrel project. Some said they worked in schools eligible for the grants but wanted to see better funding for schools across the state.
In his response to the Observer's query about the status of the project, Tarte also noted that "leadership at DonorsChoose contacted me to apologize and commend my commitment to teachers in my district."
DonorsChoose Chief Marketing Officer Katie Bisbee declined to confirm or deny that account: "We don't have anything else to say on this story. We are moving on!"