“We were just trying to demonstrate that this really was bipartisan and, at best, nonpartisan,” she said.
Concerns for funding are on Rizzo’s radar, but she said the institute has outside sources of funding, like General Electric and the Rhodes Foundation.
“Actually, we bring in four times the amount of money that we receive from the state,” she said.
Brian Balfour, policy director at conservative-leaning Civitas said his organization is opposed to taxpayer support of the centers, not their missions.
But George Noblit, a UNC education professor, said without the Hunt Institute, the state would be faced with a significant loss.
“Almost all of the initiatives of the past 10 years that have come down on education, the Hunt Institute has been a player,” Noblit said. “They’re a convener; they’re a connector.”
Nicole Roscoe, associate policy analyst at the Hunt Institute and a 2014 UNC graduate, said the institute’s role in the legislature and education is beneficial to the UNC system.
“The UNC’s system’s mission is to educate the people of North Carolina, and it’s done a really good job of that,” Roscoe said. “The Hunt Institute, I think, kind of plays into that larger goal the more we’re able to connect leaders and decision-makers.”
Rizzo said the Hunt Institute aims to surround governors with informed and engaged leaders in the education world. The institute recently created the Hunt-Kean Fellowship, which involves inviting 16 to 18 fellows to legislative retreats and offering opportunities to interact with policy leaders.
Among this first group of cohorts is a diverse collection of attorney generals, lieutenant governors, state senators and commissioners, Rizzo said.
The Hunt Institute also organizes legislative retreats for state officials, wherein they can gain bipartisan insights on education policy.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor, said he has been invited to previous legislative retreats. He said they were scrupulously organized to have a bipartisan attendance and were not intended to persuade politicians to adopt a particular educational philosophy.
Rizzo said the Hunt Institute has hosted over 140 legislative representatives from both political parties over the last two years and exposed them to discussion and perspectives on educational issues. During these retreats, legislators also engage with superintendents, principals and teachers in small settings and watch demonstration lessons.
The Hunt Institute also puts on the country’s only national governors’ retreat and publishes reports during the year to keep legislators up to date on education issues.
Guillory said these centers and institutes are distinct, necessary parts of UNC’s campus.
“There’s a tendency to see the core of the university as the classroom — and of course, it is,” he said. “But at a public university, the core also includes instruments to project the power of the university into the realm of governance — into the realm of scientific advancement.”