Transylvania Times: Shortchanging Public Education
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led General Assembly have been at odds over the allocation of state money to public education. For the past three years, Cooper has asked state lawmakers to increase spending on education while Republican leaders continue to try to give tax breaks to large corporations instead of properly funding our schools.
Two recent reports state North Carolina is not spending enough money on public education. Late last year, independent consultant WestEd released a nearly 300-page report entitled “Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina.” In that report, the consultants call for an additional $8 billion to be spent over the next eight years to improve public education in the state.
The WestEd report is the result of the Leandro court decision in 1997, which called for the state to provide “every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.” Those assigned to monitor the state’s progress in providing this education determined the state was not meeting that goal.
The WestEd report states, “During the 1990s, North Carolina posted the largest student achievement gains of any state in mathematics, and it realized substantial progress in reading, becoming the first southern state to score above the national average in fourth grade reading and math, although it had entered the decade near the bottom of the state rankings.”
However, the report states “cutbacks that began during the recession after 2008, along with much deeper legislative cuts over the last few years, have eliminated or greatly reduced many of the programs that were put in place and have begun to undermine the quality and equity gains that were previously made. Declines in achievement have occurred since 2013 in mathematics and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and achievement gaps have widened.”
According to the report, in fiscal year 2017, North Carolina had the sixth lowest per pupil spending in the United States. When adjusted for inflation, the per pupil spending in North Carolina has declined about 6 percent from 2009 until 2018.
As a result of this decrease in per pupil funding, the report states “the state does not currently provide adequate resources to ensure that all students have the opportunity to meet higher standards and become college and career ready.”
“North Carolina ranks 49th on effort, while South Carolina ranks eighth,” the report states. “The difference means that South Carolina has funding levels at the national average while North Carolina, the wealthier state, funds students at a level nearly $4,000 per pupil below the national average.”
The report also notes that when it comes to K-12 public education spending as part of a state’s gross domestic product, North Carolina ranks next to last. Quite simply, the state has the funds to spend more on public education, but the General Assembly has chosen not to.
Bottom Line: As the Transylvania Times reported “It would have been better for the public schoolchildren of North Carolina if the Republican leadership would have negotiated with Cooper to increase teacher pay and close the funding gap that exists so that more schoolchildren have an opportunity to receive a “sound, basic education.” — we couldn’t have said it any better.