Shifting more of the responsibility for funding schools to localities, as some North Carolina lawmakers are advocating, would trap many children in underfunded schools and force up property taxes.
Our K-12 public schools are already suffering from significant cuts in state funding made by the legislature in recent years. For the current school year, state funding per student is 11 percent lower ($653 less) compared to six years ago, taking account of inflation. This has meant fewer teachers and teaching assistants in classrooms, larger class sizes, less money for textbooks and other instructional material, and an average salary for North Carolina teachers that ranks 46th among states.
Further reducing the state’s commitment to our school children would make these troubling trends even worse, particularly in poorer school districts, and turn our education system into one of haves and have-nots. That’s because state money helps schools in areas with few local resources fill in the gaps, allowing children who live in those communities to have some of the same opportunities as children who live in wealthier communities.
If state funding is curtailed, economically disadvantaged rural and urban communities will struggle to make up the loss, while affluent school districts will have access to ample local resources to invest in their public schools. State funding in North Carolina has gone a long way toward leveling the playing field for all of our children and ensuring broad access to educational opportunities.
When a representative of the NC Association of County Commissioners briefed a legislative committee this week on how our schools are funded, some lawmakers who favor more cuts to state funding highlighted the fact that North Carolina ranks 8th-highest among states for the percentage (not the actual dollar amount) of total funding for public education that is provided by the state.
But that ranking means little in and of itself. Consider:
- If North Carolina dropped its share of state support for public education to the national average, local governments would need to raise an additional $2.4 billion to stay afloat. This would equate to a 40 percent increase in property taxes on average. Neighboring states tend to either pay higher local property taxes or provide less state funding for public education (on a per pupil spending basis) than North Carolina.
- The proportion of school funding that comes from the state in North Carolina reflects our commitment to the importance of investing in public education. North Carolina’s state constitution makes the state primarily responsible for funding public schools. Many other states are not similarly obligated.
North Carolina has long been considered a progressive Southern state, a reputation earned by things like our commitment to building a strong public education system that’s available to each child. Unfortunately, that commitment has been waning in the legislature. Shifting more of the responsibility for funding our public schools onto local communities is a surefire way to create roadblocks for too many of our children and take us further off the path to shared prosperity.