NC Budget and Tax Center

Six trends that highlight waning state support for public education

Amid major differences between the House and Senate respective budgets, public schools across the state wait to see what level of state support will be provided for public education. The final decision doesn’t just matter for the education of our children but the attractiveness of our communities and the long-term potential of our economy to grow together.

Funding may not solve every challenge in public education, but it certainly can make a difference in ensuring that a quality education for every child can be provided. As I’ve previously highlighted, smart allocation of public dollars can ensure that regardless of where they live in the state, every child receives a quality education, and in so doing an opportunity for them and in turn the economy to do well in the future.

Here are six trends that highlight the impact of state-level budget decisions on public education in North Carolina.

  1. Total state funding for public schools remains below pre-recession level

State funding for public schools has not yet reached its peak level for FY 2008 prior to the Great Recession. For FY 2015, total state funding for public education was $8.04 billion compared to $8.6 billion for FY 2008 when adjusted for inflation. This decline in state funding equates to $578 million in less funding for public schools.

Total Pub Ed Spending

Note: For this blog post, state funding for teacher pay increases are included in total spending for public education. BTC normally backs this particular funding out of the public education budget, as it has historically been included in the Reserves section of the state budget. Accordingly, figures in this blog post may differ from BTC’s other analyses of the state budget.

  1. State funding per pupil is well below pre-recession spending level

For the upcoming 2015-16 school year, nearly 76,000 more students will enter North Carolina’s public schools compared to 2008. Less state funding for public education amid a steady increase in student enrollment results in a decline in state funding per student. For FY 2015, state funding was $608 less per pupil compared to 2008. This makes North Carolina one of 14 states in which state funding per-student is 10 percent or more below pre-recession levels.

Per Pupil State Funding

  1. Shifting of funding responsibility to local level results in widening gaps in education spending

Declining state support for public education means a shift in funding responsibility to local communities. A 2014 report by the Public School Forum of NC notes the impact of this shift in funding responsibility on funding equity for public schools across the state:

“From the early years of the study, a troubling trend has become evidence that has deepened over time: there is a widening gap between counties with many taxable resources and those with few, and simultaneously, a widening gap in counties’ school spending patterns.”

Wealthier counties are able to spend more on schools while counties with fewer taxable resources aren’t able to invest as much in their schools. Accordingly, shifting funding responsibility to local communities creates challenges to ensuring all children receive a quality education regardless of where they live in the state.

  1. Fewer teachers are in North Carolina’s public classrooms

For the 2014-15 school year, North Carolina’s public schools had more than 3,800 fewer state-funded classroom teacher positions compared to the 2007-08 school year. This decrease in classroom teacher positions occurred as total enrollment in public schools increased by nearly 60,000 students over this time period.

State-funded Teacher Positions

  1. Fewer teacher assistants are in North Carolina’s public classrooms

For the 2014-15 school year, North Carolina’s public schools had more than 7,000 fewer state-funded teacher assistant positions compared to the 2007-08 school year. Fewer state-funded teacher assistant positions, along with fewer classroom teacher positions, limit efforts to reduce class size and provide classroom teachers with instructional support personnel.

State-funded Teacher Assistant Positions

  1. Teacher compensation is less competitive nationally

A 2013 report by the North Carolina Justice Center titled Smart Money: Investing in Student Achievement notes:

“North Carolina has relinquished its standing among states in average pay for its public school teachers. In 2004, North Carolina ranked 22nd nationally in average teacher salary, higher than all its bordering states except for Georgia. For the 2011-12 school year the average teacher salary in North Carolina ranked 46st nationally and was the lowest among all its bordering states.”

In 2013 state lawmakers took steps to address this reality by introducing a new state pay scale that in part increased the starting salary for beginning teachers to $33,000 from $30,800, with a pledge to get starting pay up to $35,000. Experienced teachers were provided modest pay increases, with more experienced teachers faring worse under the new salary scale compared to the old pay scale. Even with the new pay scale, compensation for North Carolina teachers remain near the bottom among states.

These six trends highlight eroding state support for public education. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would further reduce state revenue, meaning fewer dollars available for public schools and other public investments. At a time when North Carolina should be boosting investments in public investments that work, efforts are being made to hamstring our ability to invest in our future. This is not a path that makes the Tar Heel state more competitive and it doesn’t promote broadly shared prosperity. And as a result, we will all lose.

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