State Republican lawmakers, who are so fond of “accountability” that they’ve mandated a letter grade for each public school, got report cards of their own this week.
A new national study on school funding gives North Carolina an F for not spending on K-12 education what it can and should invest. In other words, the Education Law Center, which advocates for educational opportunity, flunked the state for its reluctance to fund its public schools adequately.
Further, the annual report ranks North Carolina 46th in the nation in its overall spending on public schools.
Small wonder. Even as the state has gradually begun to increase school spending, it still languishes below pre-recession levels. During the 2008-09 school year, North Carolina spent $5,896 per student; in 2014-15, it spent only $5,766 per student.
The report used four key measures: overall state and local funding; spending on high-poverty schools versus wealthy ones; the percentage of students who attend public schools versus private schools; and “effort,” or each state’s spending on schools versus its ability to spend, based on gross state product.
“Compared to other states, North Carolina has a pretty good capacity for spending,” Molly Hunter, director of the Law Center’s Education Justice program, told N.C. Policy Watch, “but it isn’t spending its money on public schools.”
So, even as policy makers talk tough about school quality and accountability, the report says, they aren’t backing that rhetoric with resources. “Without this foundation, education reforms, no matter how promising or effective, cannot be achieved and sustained,” the report’s introduction notes.
As Marquita Brown reported in Tuesday’s News & Record, this means an estimated loss of nearly $48 million in state funding for Guilford County Schools since the recession began.
It means fewer teachers and teacher assistants. It means larger classes. It means funding that fails to keep pace with growing enrollment. It means the discontinuation of the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which attracted quality students to become teachers.
And it means less investment in one of the most important ingredients for long-term economic vitality in the state even as lawmakers seem bent on cutting more taxes.
To lawmakers’ credit, they did raise teacher salaries — though little, if any, for veteran teachers. And they have funneled more money to the poorest schools, earning a B in that category. But those slices for the needy still come from a smaller overall pie.
As for the future, the House budget would increase school spending by 6.3 percent. The Senate, however, could call for as much as $168 million less, even as lawmakers push more private and charter school funding.
Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-controlled General Assembly continue to cite public education as one of the accomplishments of a “Carolina Comeback” under GOP rule.
Somebody, obviously, is grading on a curve.