A recent report by the North Carolina Justice Center shows that, within the current budget structure and using programs that are already in place, more can be done to educate English Language Learners (ELLs) in North Carolina.  ELLs represent the fastest growing and lowest achieving demographic subgroup amongst students in the state.  These students will make up a large portion of our workforce in the future, so it is vital for the prosperity of all North Carolinians that educators and policymakers do more to prepare ELLs for higher education and entrance into the workforce.

In response to the likely lifting of the charter school cap by the incoming North Carolina Legislature, a recent Op-Ed by Tyler Whittenberg of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project lays out the pitfalls of charter expansion and the accountability measures needed to ensure that the schools run properly.  Charter schools have had at best mixed results for students in North Carolina thus far.  Any expansion must be accompanied by well-reasoned policies like these in order to keep charter schools from exacerbating the very problems they purportedly help solve.

The newest figures from the Census Bureau show that black residential segregation has decreased since 2000 to the lowest levels in the past one hundred years.  The average white person lives in a neighborhood that is 79 percent white, down from 81 percent in 2000; the average black person lives in a neighborhood that is 46 percent black, down from 49 percent. Hispanic segregation has increased slightly over the same period.  Segregation still persists in many areas and actually increased in 25 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

While the overall decrease is good news in the housing context, it raises some disconcerting questions in the realm of public school integration.  A report from University of California at Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project shows that, during the same period where residential segregation declined, segregation in public schools has accelerated.

Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) presented their long-awaited recommendations to improve North Carolina’s school funding system yesterday to the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Public School Funding Formula.  APA is a privately-owned, independent company with extensive experience analyzing public education systems.  They were asked to conduct a non-partisan, comprehensive review of North Carolina’s current system of supporting Local Education Agencies for K-12 education, evaluate North Carolina’s funding structure, describe the strengths and weaknesses of the current funding system, and issue recommendations for improving the funding system.  These recommendations are designed to be revenue neutral, meaning they were not to address the issue of funding adequacy.

APA found that North Carolina’s funding system suffers from a variety of weaknesses that undermine its ability to allocate funds in an efficient and equitable manner.  Specific weaknesses include: 1) the large number of allotments used to distribute state support, 2) the complexity of the allotment formulas and resultant duplication and lack of transparency, 3) a failure to help harder-to-staff schools that often have the greatest need to recruit highly qualified teachers, 4) a failure to relate the distribution of funds to the actual student-based needs of school districts, and 5) a failure to provide incentives to local school districts to provide their own support for public schools.

APA issued a series of recommendations to improve North Carolina’s school funding system.  These recommendations include combining allotments so that they are less numerous and easier to understand, modifying the teacher allotment to recognize the needs of students (including special education, at-risk students, limited-English proficient students, gifted students, and students enrolled in vocational programs) in each district, modifying the statewide teacher salary schedule by accounting for geographic cost differences and the attractiveness of districts to teachers, and moving to a “foundation” formula similar to that used in most other states based on setting a base cost with adjustments for student and district characteristics.  Many of these recommendations mirror those found in a recent Justice Center report on North Carolina public school funding.