Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Screenshot of the television ad produced by School Freedom Fund that attacks U.S. Senate candidate Pat McCrory. Screenshot of the television ad produced by School Freedom Fund that attacks U.S. Senate candidate Pat McCrory.

Screenshot of the television ad produced by School Freedom Fund that attacks U.S. Senate candidate Pat McCrory.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht April 26, 2022

Ad misleads North Carolina about McCrory's textbook commission

If Your Time is short

  • Pat McCrory doesn't dispute that he appointed Democrats to North Carolina's Textbook Commission.
  • However, the ad omits the fact that North Carolina's governor can only appoint commission members who are nominated by the education superintendent.
  • The ad also falsely says the commission "mandated" textbooks, which it doesn't have the power to do.

A conservative education group is attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pat McCrory, claiming that while McCrory was North Carolina’s governor, he orchestrated the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s classrooms.

"As governor, Pat McCrory put liberals in charge of the state textbook commission, appointing a Democrat majority," the narrator says in an ad paid for by School Freedom Fund, a political action committee tied to Club for Growth Action. "His commission mandated textbooks written by radical, woke professors pushing critical race theory, teaching our kids to hate America."

Club for Growth Action has spent millions of dollars attacking McCrory and boosting U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Budd, McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker are the top GOP candidates hoping to replace Sen. Richard Burr, who will retire at the end of his term this year. 

McCrory campaign spokesman Jordan Shaw said the School Freedom Fund ad is "one of the most disgustingly false ads in recent memory" because it misrepresents how textbook commission members are appointed and how their recommendations reach classrooms. He said that "CRT wasn’t an issue at the time, and (McCrory) is on record multiple times as being strongly opposed to CRT being taught in our schools." McCrory’s campaign is calling on Budd and his supporters to publicly rebuke the ad.

Yet, the claim about McCrory is spreading. North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has endorsed Budd, made a similar claim in an ad for Club for Growth saying: "Pat put liberals in charge of state textbooks."

The ad misleads on several fronts.

McCrory did appoint Democrats to the state’s textbook commission, but the claim glaringly omits significant context: State law requires the governor to appoint someone nominated by the state education superintendent — who is elected separately from the governor. During McCrory’s time as governor, the superintendent was a Democrat.

The ad also overstates the role of the North Carolina Textbook Commission. It doesn’t "mandate" textbooks. It reviews and approves books that can be used in the classroom. Ultimately, local school districts and schools have final say over which books are read as part of a curriculum.

Let’s go through the claims in the ad.

Appointing a commission

The ad says McCrory "put liberals in charge of the state textbook commission, appointing a Democrat majority."

When we reached out to the School Freedom Fund to support this claim, Club for Growth spokesman Joe Kildea cited a 2014 blog post by the conservative John Locke Foundation. Its education expert reported that McCrory had appointed 22 new people to the textbook commission: 11 Democrats and four Republicans. For more specific records, PolitiFact North Carolina has reached out to the boards and commissions division of the governor’s office, but hasn’t heard back.

McCrory hasn’t refuted the party affiliations of the people he appointed to the textbook commission. He has pointed out, however, that state law requires the governor to appoint textbook commission members who are nominated by the state superintendent of public instruction, an elected position. During the entirety of McCrory’s tenure, that position was held by June Atkinson, a Democrat who was elected three times to the seat before losing to a Republican in 2016.

State law requires the textbook commission to be a mixture of teachers, school administrators, and parents from each of the three levels of grade school: elementary, middle and high school.

The governor is allowed to reject the superintendent’s nominee, according to Blair Rhoades, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. "What the governor can’t do is approve someone who has not been recommended by the superintendent," Rhoades said.

Featured Fact-check

In other words, McCrory could only appoint someone who had been nominated by Atkinson.

‘Mandated’ books

The ad says the commission "mandated textbooks written by radical woke professors pushing critical race theory, teaching our kids to hate America." This distorts how textbooks are approved for public schools. 

The state textbook commission doesn’t "mandate" books be read in North Carolina classrooms, as the ad says. North Carolina has at least one board of education in each county, and state law gives those boards discretion over which books are used in the classroom. Here’s how the process works: 

  • The textbook commission reviews potential textbooks for grade school students. 

  • The state education board considers the commission’s recommendations and then votes on whether to approve a textbook for use in North Carolina’s public schools.

  • Local school boards then create their class curriculums by selecting textbooks from a list of options approved by the state board.

As for critical race theory, the ad leaves out details about its origins and exaggerates how it’s typically taught. CRT is a broad set of ideas about systemic bias and privilege that has roots in legal academia. However, it’s often mischaracterized by conservative politicians who fear that its teachings might lead students to a more liberal worldview.

Although CRT has been around since at least the 1970s, it was elevated in public discourse in 2019 after the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is critical of school portrayals of slavery and offers lesson plans for teaching about it in school. 

The 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd died inspired months of racial justice demonstrations across the country and stoked widespread national conversation about the role systemic racism plays in modern lives and throughout history. Then-President Trump denounced CRT in a September 2020 memo to federal agencies, describing it as "divisive, anti-American propaganda. McCrory left office in 2016. 

Contrary to the claims by Trump and the School Freedom Fund ad, education experts say the theory doesn’t explicitly teach students "to hate America" or make them feel guilty. 

Several quotes that appear on-screen during the ad are from a writer for National Review, a conservative outlet that’s critical of CRT. The ad also features footage of a professor saying the constitution is "soaked in slavery." The audio is from Rebecca Edwards, a history professor at Vassar College in New York who co-authored a textbook flagged by the School Freedom Fund. The quote comes from a podcast Edwards recorded in January 2021.

Our ruling

The School Freedom Fund ad says Pat McCrory "put liberals in charge" of the North Carolina Textbook Commission, which "mandated textbooks."

McCrory appointed registered Democrats, but did so because state law limits his options to people nominated by the state education superintendent — an office controlled by an elected Democrat throughout his tenure.

The Textbook Commission doesn’t "mandate" textbooks. Its role requires it to place textbooks on a menu of approved reading materials for local school boards to choose from. 

The ad contains an element of truth but ignores other critical facts about the state’s education laws that would give voters a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Video ad by the School Freedom Fund.

Email exchange with Jordan Shaw, spokesman for Pat McCrory’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Email exchange with Joe Kildea, spokesman for Club for Growth Action.

Email exchange with Blair Rhoades, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

North Carolina state laws and policies governing the Textbook Commission.

Blog post by the John Locke Foundation, "Governor appoints "bipartisan" textbook commission," posted July 18, 2014.

Story by WRAL, "School-choice PAC floods NC airwaves in heated US Senate GOP primary," posted April 24, 2022; "$1.5M ad campaign touts Robinson's backing of Budd; McCrory calls claims 'total deception,'’ posted April 20, 2022.

Story by the New York Times, "Critical race theory: A brief history," posted Nov. 8, 2021.

Story by PolitiFact, "What is critical race theory and why are conservatives blocking it?" posted May 24, 2021.

Audio by the "More Than Miscellaneous" podcast, uploaded in January 2021.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Paul Specht

Ad misleads North Carolina about McCrory's textbook commission

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up