A national report released today  seems to confirm what many of the N.C. General Assembly’s harshest critics have long declared: K-12 education funding in North Carolina has fallen prodigiously since the economic recession of 2008, and has worsened even as the state’s economy begins to rebound.
The report, authored by a nonpartisan, D.C.-based research group, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities , lists North Carolina among just eight states nationwide that have cut general funding per student by almost 10 percent or more since 2008.
From the report:
Five of those eight — Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin — enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding.
Most states raised general funding per student this year, but 19 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve. Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Kansas, and North Carolina, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit.
Our country’s future depends heavily on the quality of its schools. Increasing financial support can help K-12 schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding the availability of high-quality early education. So it’s problematic that so many states have headed in the opposite direction over the last decade. These cuts risk undermining schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.
The survey comes just days after Policy Watch reported that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration ordered all state departments, including the public schools, to ready a 2017-2019 budget proposal with a 2 percent spending cut . For North Carolina schools, that would amount to roughly a $173 million cut, and could have drastic implications for classroom resources and the state’s teaching force if North Carolina leaders follow through on the reduction.
Of course, we’ve written extensively at Policy Watch on the state of K-12 funding in North Carolina and how it has impacted state officials’ ability to weather rising student enrollment. 
The national report bundles data from 2008 through the current year. Its findings are likely to feed critics of the legislature and McCrory. However, it’s worth noting that K-12 funding began its descent prior to McCrory’s election and the GOP takeover of the legislature in 2011, although the decline continued under Republican control.
The report also found that the K-12 cuts have slowed states’ economic recovery, forced local school districts to scale back drastically and blocked schools’ from speeding badly-needed reforms.
Many states and school districts have identified as a priority reforms to prepare children better for the future, such as improving teacher quality, reducing class sizes, and increasing student learning time. Deep funding cuts hamper their ability to implement many of these reforms. For example, while the number of public K-12 teachers and other school workers has fallen by 221,000 since 2008, the number of students has risen by 1,120,000. At a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to a country’s prosperity, large cuts in funding for basic education could cause lasting harm.
The report goes on to blame a host of factors for the eroding public investment in schools, including a drop in post-recession revenues and sweeping tax cuts passed in GOP-controlled states such as North Carolina.
Yet, even with the state’s economy seemingly on the mend, North Carolina was one of a number of states that approved spending plans that reduce public funding per student in 2016-2017. In North Carolina, the reduction was nearly 1 percent.
Not surprisingly, the report finds that the cuts will have long-term consequences for states like North Carolina.
Local school districts typically struggle to make up for major state funding cuts on their own, so the cuts have led to job losses, deepening the recession and slowing the economy’s recovery. They also impede important state education reform initiatives at a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to the country’s prosperity.
A recent study on the impact of school financing reforms beginning in the 1970s highlighted the importance of adequate funding for children’s — especially low-incomechildren’s — success in school and later in the workplace. Examining data on more than 15,000 children born between 1955 and 1985, it found that poor children whose schools were estimated to receive a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending (adjusted for inflation) before they began public school, and to maintain that increase over their 12 years of school, were 10 percentage points more likely to complete high school than other poor children. They also had 10 percent higher earnings as adults and were 6 percentage points less likely as adults to be poor.