After scathing report, N.C. legislators move to reform state’s system of funding public schools

School desk on top of a dollar billFollowing a scathing state report on North Carolina’s method of funding public schools, state lawmakers on Wednesday called for a major overhaul of the system.

“This is going to be tough, really tough,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, co-chairman of the legislature’s Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, after a report prepared by a nonpartisan legislative office pointed to far-reaching inequities, inconsistencies and flaws in North Carolina’s complicated K-12 funding model.

That model, which hinges on allotments for various components of public education (i.e. textbooks, teachers, school administrators and transportation), is a target for some who would like to see the state transition to a simpler, student-based system of funding in the coming years.

Under the so-called “weighted student-based funding,” state leaders would dictate total funding per student and factor in “weights” for those who require more services, such as students with limited English proficiency or children with disabilities.

Supporters of student-based funding say it provides a more transparent, equitable system for meeting students’ needs. Read more about student-based funding here. 

As Policy Watch reported this morning, the study on the current allocation system by the Program Evaluation Division noted inequities between low-wealth and affluent counties in teacher funding, 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.

PED officials told lawmakers Wednesday that they could opt for a full-scale overhaul or speed fixes to areas of the state’s allotment system lambasted in this week’s report.

Lawmakers said Wednesday they would begin by drafting a bill to create a legislative task force to study an overhaul of the system, with plans to vote on the task force’s creation as soon as next month. The task force would tentatively begin work before next October and complete their report with recommendations for the legislature by July 2018.

Horn, an influential education budget chief in the state House, called the reform a “huge deal” Wednesday.

“We can choose to do nothing as we often do and go our merry way,” said Horn. “But that’s not the message the voter is sending across the nation. We need to come to grips with how we fund public education.”

Meanwhile, Democrats on the legislative committee urged caution in proceeding toward a massive revamp of the state allotment system, which includes 37 separate categories with funding formulas that set appropriations for teachers, low-wealth counties and more.

Reforming the complicated system is a high-stakes issue for the state, which provides roughly 70 percent of funding for North Carolina’s 115 local school districts.

While a PED recommendation included a task force composed of equal parts House and Senate legislators, Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Charlotte, said lawmakers should consider including school administrators and “others with skin in the game” to ready a potential revamp.

“It’s going to be a political battle,” said Carney. “But if we’ve got other people at the table and not just legislators, it might help us in moving it forward.”

Rep. Marvin Lucas, a Democrat from Cumberland County, agreed with Carney, adding that it would be a “tremendous challenge” to take on the issue so soon after the election with legislators coming into and out of the General Assembly.

“We need to move forward with something, but I’m not sure we need to move with this expeditious speed,” said Lucas.

However, several prominent Republicans on the committee urged legislators to move quickly to address the issue. “Let’s get on with it,” said Horn.

Policy Watch will continue to follow this debate as it develops.

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