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Disparity in North Carolina public school funding widens
Gap between richest and poorest counties expands
Published Wednesday, February 26, 2020 8:20 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Research by Public School Forum of North Carolina showed the funding gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest counties is growing.

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The student funding gap between North Carolina’s wealthiest and poorest counties is growing, according to a study.

Research by Public School Forum of North Carolina showed a widening gulf in local funding between the richest and lowest-wealth districts in 2017-18. The Local School Finance Study found that the 10 highest spending districts spent on average $3,305 per student compared to $782 per student by the 10 lowest-spending counties, a disparity of $2,523 per student – the largest since the group started tracking in 1987.

“Year after year, our poorest counties fall further behind our wealthier ones in terms of resources available to their local schools,” said Michael D. Priddy, acting president executive director of the forum. “These funding disparities have a real impact on educational opportunity for students, particularly in terms of the ability of lower wealth counties to fund local supplemental pay to attract and retain the teachers they need to serve students.”

Orange County, which includes Chapel Hill, provides the most local money per pupil at $5,256, followed by Dare ($4,274) and Durham ($3,376) counties. The lowest per-pupil funding were in Swain ($434), Hoke ($535) and Robeson ($590) counties. Mecklenburg, the state’s wealthiest county and second-largest school district, spent $2,585 per student, while  Wake, the state’s biggest school district, paid $2,509. The state average is $1,714.

In 2017-2018, the 10 poorest counties taxed themselves at nearly double the rate of the 10 wealthiest counties at 81 cents compared to 45 cents. Because of disparities in real estate wealth, however, the revenue that the poorest counties could generate — even at their higher tax rates — was substantially lower than what the wealthier counties could generate.

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“Policy decisions at the state level have helped by providing supplemental funds for the state’s smallest and lowest-wealth counties, yet this is not enough to bridge the gap in what these districts are able to provide to their students,” said Lauren Fox, Public School Forum’s senior director of policy. “North Carolinians living in lower wealth districts face an impossible financial burden to support public education; consequently, their schools are more poorly resourced than those in wealthier counties.  

School funding has taken on new urgency with the state Supreme Court confirming previous rulings in the 25-year-old Leandro case, acknowledging that inequity between low-wealth and high-wealth districts hinders the state’s constitutional obligation to give every student access to a “sound basic education.”      

In 2018, Judge David Lee, who presides over Leandro, ordered independent educational consultant WestEd to analyze the state’s school funding history and recommend a plan to comply with the court order.

In December, the consultant released its findings and an action plan to meet the state’s obligation. Lee signed a consent order last month that’s largely in line with the recommendations in WestEd’s report.

“We look forward to tracking these school funding developments throughout 2020 and moving forward throughout the next decade,” Priddy said. “It is our hope that our current and new leaders can come together with educators, families, community, and business leaders to prioritize and invest in the public education system that was promised to each and every one of our children, so that their constitutional right to a sound basic education will be realized, regardless of their background.”


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