Commentary

New Mexico court ruling on inadequate, unconstitutional school funding should be wake up call for NC lawmakers

On July 20th, a New Mexico court ruled that the state’s school funding system was inadequate and unconstitutional, violating the constitutional equal protection and due process rights of economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners and Native American students. The ruling is an unmitigated victory for the residents of New Mexico, particularly those from underserved communities.

The evidence of New Mexico’s inadequate funding will sound familiar to North Carolinians:

  • New Mexico students lack adequate instructional materials, curricula and teachers.
  • The lack of resources is having a disproportionately negative impact on children from low-income families, Native American students, and English language learners.
  • To allow at-risk students to overcome the barriers they face, the state must provide programs such as pre-K, summer school, after-school programs, targeted class-size reductions, and research-based reading programs.
  • The state’s teacher evaluation system penalizes teachers for working in high-need schools, creating shortages of effective teachers in high-need schools.

These same arguments were echoed by the more than 20,000 educators who marched on Raleigh on May 16th of this year. Their message highlighted how nearly ten years of austerity budgets in North Carolina are making it increasingly difficult for teachers to meet the needs of all of their students. Specifically, there are direct local parallels to each of the findings from the New Mexico case:

  • North Carolina’s lack of adequate instructional materials, curricula, and teachers is evidenced by the 55 percent reduction in classroom supplies, 39 percent reduction in textbooks, and 2.5 percent reduction in classroom teachers from pre-Recession levels.
  • North Carolina’s disproportionate impact on at-risk students is evidenced by widening achievement gaps on the National Assessment of Student Progress.
  • North Carolina funds fewer Pre-K slots than from before the Recession. Districts have little funding for summer school or after-school programs. The General Assembly’s one-size-fits-all class-size reduction plan is forcing districts to abandon targeted class-size reduction plans that focused on at-risk students. North Carolina’s early-grades literacy efforts have ignored research-informed best practices, and has been associated with declining reading scores.
  • North Carolina has a school-based evaluation system that does a better job measuring students’ family incomes rather than how much learning is taking place, needlessly stigmatizing schools with a high proportion of low-income students.

In fact, school funding in New Mexico looks better than in North Carolina. Adjusted to reflect differences in regional wages, poverty, economies of scale, and population density, New Mexico outspends North Carolina by 29 percent:

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Commentary

Artificial income tax cap would permanently hamstring our public schools

By all accounts, the biggest issue facing North Carolina’s public schools is the lack of adequate funding. Adjusted for inflation, 18 of the 24 biggest school funding allotments remain below their pre-Recession levels, or have been eliminated altogether. As a result, North Carolina’s per-student state funding remains 3 percent below pre-Recession levels after adjusting for inflation. According to the most recent data from the National Education Association, North Carolina’s per-pupil spending ranks 39th in the country, trailing the national average by over $2,400, or 25 percent.

More sophisticated measures of school spending paint an even bleaker picture. For example, EdWeek’s Quality Counts report gives North Carolina an F (47th in the nation) for level of school spending. Research from the Education Law Project and Rutgers University reaches a similar conclusion, ranking North Carolina 48th in terms of total school spending.

Compared to other states, North Carolina devotes a shockingly small share of its wealth towards funding our public schools. North Carolina’s spending on public schools accounts for less than 2.8 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. By contrast, Vermont makes twice the effort, devoting 5.6 percent of its state wealth to its public school system. Overall, North Carolina ranks 46th in terms of school funding effort; a ranking that has fallen even as the national recovery officially began.  Rather than invest when it has been possible to do so, the current leadership of the General Assembly has continued to reduce their commitment to our classrooms and children.

If North Carolina’s lawmakers were interested in addressing the inadequacy of North Carolina’s school funding, they should want to have every revenue-generating tool at their disposal. Particularly, lawmakers should prioritize revenue options that minimize the tax burden on lower-income North Carolinians who have mostly been left behind in North Carolina’s economic recovery. Read more

Commentary

N.C. State’s hyped voucher study tells us nothing about N.C.’s voucher program

Normally, when somebody hears about an evaluation of an education program, they reasonably assume the evaluation will tell them whether the program is working or not. When reading an evaluation report, policymakers, parents, and educators hope the evaluation will tell them if the program is helping the participating students. These seem like obvious, uncontroversial points.

On Monday, June 4, researchers from N.C. State released “an evaluation of the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program,” North Carolina’s largest private school voucher program. The authors enthusiastically publicized and distributed the report, making sure to provide advance copies to media organizations and pro-voucher advocacy groups. The report has been highlighted by all of the state’s major media outlets, including being the first story greeting visitors to EdNC.org all of last week.

But there’s a problem: the report fails to tell us whether the Opportunity Scholarship program is working. The researchers’ efforts tell us nothing about whether accepting an Opportunity Scholarship will help or harm a student’s education.

The report’s primary flaw is that it has no external validity. That is, the students tested as part of this study are different from the average Opportunity Scholarship student. As a result, there’s no reason to think that the untested Opportunity Scholarship students would similarly outperform their public school counterparts. As the Charlotte Observer‘s Ann Doss-Helms noted, just over half of the voucher schools that participated in the study were Catholic, while only 10 percent of all schools receiving Opportunity Scholarship vouchers are Catholic. Additionally, the report only looked at students who were recruited and volunteered to take a test. These students are different from the average voucher student.

Because of these differences, you can’t use the report to make claims about the average voucher student or the impact of the voucher program overall. The effects highlighted by the researchers only apply to the 89 Opportunity Scholarship students (in the researcher’s preferred comparison) who volunteered to be tested, representing just 1.6 percent of the 5,624 Opportunity Scholarship students in the 16-17 school year. The report tells us nothing about the other 98.4 percent of Opportunity Scholarship students

Unfortunately, one would have to carefully read the report to reach these conclusions. The press release fails to adequately warn readers of the paper’s limitations. One would have to dig into the ninth paragraph of the Charlotte Observer’s story on the report to find a clear description of the report’s shortcomings: Read more

Commentary, Education

With HB 514, legislature unambiguously embraces school segregation

There’s a word for what happens when majority-white suburbs pull their children from a majority-minority school district and place them into exclusionary, majority-white schools: segregation. With the advancement of HB 514, lawmakers are unambiguously embracing school segregation as state policy.

HB 514 allows four Charlotte suburbs – Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill – the authority to create and operate their own charter schools. These suburbs can then limit enrollment in these schools to municipal residents. Cornelius is 85 percent white. Huntersville is 77 percent white. Matthews is 78 percent white. Mint Hill is 73 percent white. Students in these majority-white suburbs are assigned to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), where white students comprise just 29 percent of enrollment.

To facilitate the funding of the schools authorized by HB 514, a related budget provision (Section 38.8) creates a new authority allowing North Carolina municipalities to spend property tax revenues on any public school that “benefits the residents of the city,” including charter schools. As national school finance expert Michael Griffith notes, similar provisions in other states have led to school funding becoming “divided on class lines and on racial lines.”

It’s quite the one-two punch. First, the General Assembly allows these suburbs to create schools with the legal authority to exclude children from nearby communities comprised mostly of non-white students. Then, these suburbs can then use their out-sized property wealth to provide their racially-isolated schools with resource levels denied to other students in the school district. In other words, these schools will be both separate and unequal.

Authorizing the creation of racially separate and unequal charter schools is not only immoral, it’s educationally harmful, and almost certainly unconstitutional, to boot. Read more

Commentary

Legislature’s education budget highlights continued under-investment in public schools

The General Assembly has been catching much-deserved criticism for refusing to subject its budget plan to the normal amendment process. That decision is undemocratic and self-defeating, undoubtedly leading to lower-quality policies and unintended negative consequences. But lawmakers deserve to be commended for completing its budget in a timely fashion, providing school districts additional budget planning time to prepare for the upcoming school year.

Of course, it’s easy to complete a budget in a timely manner when lawmakers aren’t interested in seriously addressing the funding shortfalls faced by our public schools.

Ultimately, 2018’s secretive budget negotiations increased already-planned FY 18-19 public schools budgets by just 0.6 percent. Rather than address persistent funding shortfalls, legislators have allowed another round of tax cuts to move forward, draining state coffers by $900 million.

Once again, additional public school funds are mostly directed at increased salary and benefit costs, with little investment that would actually expand school district resources. Of the 24 biggest allotments in FY 08-09, 18 remain below their pre-Recession levels when adjusted for inflation and student growth. For example, funding for textbooks is down 39 percent from pre-Recession levels. Funding for supplies remains 55 percent below pre-Recession levels. And funding for teacher assistants remains 35 percent below pre-Recession levels. Read more