This school year, approximately 56 percent of all students in North Carolina public schools come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for free and reduced lunch (up from 48 percent in 2008). Many students within this new majority require extra learning supports, as they lag their peers in core learning areas such as reading, math, and English.
The budget signed by Governor McCrory cuts funding in many areas that help boost student achievement. For the 2013-14 school year, these funding cuts have meant fewer classroom teachers, teacher assistants, instructional support, and instructional supplies. This raises concerns about what the failure to invest in public education means for future student performance. Despite the state’s own success in targeting spending to where it is needed most, state policymakers have cut funding in the very areas that enhance the quality of our public education pipeline.
When the state increased funding for the most academically disadvantaged school districts through the Disadvantaged Student Supplement Fund (DSSF) beginning with the 2004-05 school year, middle and high school students in those districts did better academically. Overall, DSSF districts spent 75 cents of every DSSF dollar on classroom-level regular and special instruction. During DSSF’s first three years, the middle school students gained more on End-of-Grade math and reading tests than other middle school students in the state. The gains of academically disadvantaged students were larger. High school students in DSSF districts scored significantly higher on End-of-Course exams than students in other districts.
Despite the positive evidence from the DSSF and the impact of targeted spending, state policymakers nevertheless cut funding in many areas found to help boost student achievement. Targeted spending on areas proven to have the greatest impact – early childhood education, teacher development, smaller classes, and extended instructional learning time, for example – improves student outcomes. However, North Carolina has taken a reverse course away from what works.
Success or failure in ensuring that all North Carolina students receive a quality education will determine the state’s economic prospects. An increasing number of jobs in the state will require some level of postsecondary training. A skilled workforce that can compete for good-paying jobs is not an option, but a necessity if North Carolina is to become more competitive and meet the demands of a 21st century economy. Accordingly, an increased commitment to investing in the state’s education pipeline must be a state-level priority.