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New state report: Myriad flaws, inequities in North Carolina’s system of funding schools

Children getting on a bus.A new state report, noting wide-ranging flaws, inequities and inconsistencies in North Carolina’s complicated method of funding public schools, is calling for a massive revamp of the system.

The report, issued this week by the legislature’s nonpartisan Program Evaluation Division (PED), suggested lawmakers either opt for a complete makeover to the allotments that funnel cash toward schools or begin patching up the system.

North Carolina’s weighty system of funding public schools depends on 37 different allotment categories, including, for example, separate categories and funding formulas for textbooks, teachers and administration.

It’s a “top-down” system of funding for traditional public schools and charters that’s had its fair share of critics nationally in recent years.

But the weighty report produced by PED this week points to inequities in North Carolina between low-wealth and affluent counties, inadequate resources for districts with large populations of children with disabilities, “illogical and uneven” funding for students with limited English proficiency and many more issues as reasons for reform.

One solution, according to PED, may be a system known as “weighted student-based funding,” otherwise known as “fair student funding,” that has grown in popularity in states seeking to improve upon equity issues, according to education advocates.

It’s complicated, of course, but put simply, student-based funding allocates cash to schools based on the numbers of students enrolled and the characteristics of those students. Each student receives an amount and various “weights” are built in for students needing additional services (i.e. ESL students or students with disabilities). For a more detailed explanation, go here.

It’s clear any such reform would take time, but PED’s report this week describes North Carolina’s allotment system as “overly complex” and lacking transparency.

Reforming North Carolina’s system would have major implications for the state’s 115 local school districts. It’s worth noting that the vast majority, about 70 percent, of K-12 schools’ funding comes from state coffers.

PED’s report was commissioned by the legislature’s Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. More as it develops.

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