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New study shows growing gap in school funding between wealthy and poor counties

EducationA new study shows the gap in school funding between North Carolina’s wealthiest and poorest counties continues to grow.

The report, published Tuesday by the Public School Forum of N.C., an education policy group in Raleigh, shows that in 2013-2014 (the  most recent data available in the report) the state’s ten highest spending counties doled out an average of $57,497 more per classroom than the ten lowest-spending counties.

Download a copy of the report here. 

That number marks an increase of $739 over the previous year, and it’s 36 percent higher than the gap reported ten years ago in the state. The Public School Forum also points out the startling fact that Orange County alone spends about the same amount of the bottom six counties combined.

From the Forum’s statement:

“The trend lines are clear – our poorest counties continue to fall further behind our wealthier counties in terms of resources available to their local schools,” said Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston. “Even though the ten poorest counties taxed themselves at nearly double the rate of the ten wealthiest counties, the revenue they could generate was substantially lower.”

The large spending gap exists primarily because of the variation in property wealth across the state, which in large part determines how much local revenue can be generated to support public schools.

The report also includes one startling graph that shows how, in 2013-2014, school systems in affluent Orange County dished out more than $4,000 per student, the most of any school system in North Carolina. Compare that to places like Swain County, a relatively low-wealth county in western North Carolina that spent just $383 per student.

The average local spending per student was about $1,500, the report said.

Many education advocates have pointed out that, with state lawmakers passing budgets that slashed millions from school officials’ budget requests, local governments have been forced to pick up the slack. Counties with greater wealth, and greater taxable resources, are clearly more suited for the task, they say.

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New report points to segregation in private schools

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bLast month, we reported on the widening racial and economic divisions in North Carolina’s two largest school systems, despite ample evidence that high concentrations of impoverished children in any school can be harmful to students’ performance.

Now, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a Georgia-based advocate for school equity, has issued a new report on virtual segregation in private schools across the country despite programs in 19 states, including North Carolina, tasked with funneling public cash toward increasing the population of low-income children in private schools.

Three years ago, North Carolina did just that with the Opportunity Scholarship Program, despite an outcry from many public education activists. And while the SEF’s report relies on 2012 demographic data (before the creation of this state’s voucher program), the numbers show segregation in private schools, particularly in southern states like North Carolina, is a very real problem.

From the report:

[W]hite students across most of the 50 states are significantly over-represented in private schools, often attending virtually segregated private schools, and usually attending private schools in which under-represented students of color — African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — are virtually excluded. These overall racial patterns among America’s private schools are more severe in the South and especially extreme in the six Deep South states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) that in the early 1960s both financed private schools and were foremost in blocking governmental mandates for significant public school desegregation. These “freedom of choice” states currently are among the nine Southern states providing public funding to private schools.

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WRAL questions the claim that NC’s anti-LGBT law would threaten schools’ federal funding

HB2As we reported this week, numerous education activists, as well as ACLU of N.C. Legal Director Chris Brook, have publicly questioned whether North Carolina’s share of federal Title IX funding—about $4.5 billion—has been put in jeopardy by the legislature’s controversial House Bill 2. 

The decision will likely hinge on an ongoing Virginia court case, but the administration of President Obama and his federal Department of Education has made it clear that it believes the anti-discrimination component of federal education law protects against transgender discrimination too. 

However, chalk WRAL up as skeptics. The network’s Mark Binker ran a “fact check” on the claim Thursday. Using a traffic signal, WRAL handed the claim a yellow light, calling it “overstated.”

From WRAL:

When we examined McCrory’s claims in defense of the law, your fact checkers pointed out he was trying “to confer a degree of certainty about the law that doesn’t appear to exist.” We have the same problem here, although not to the same degree.

The idea that HB2 posses a certain or immediate threat to funding is specious. Any move to withdraw funding from the state would be part of what is typically a lengthy process and could be derailed by what the Fourth Circuit, or eventually the Supreme Court, says with regard to Title IX policy.

However, there is certainly room to make the argument that HB2 eventually could have an impact on federal funding. The Obama administration’s actions with regard to Title IX and transgender policy in other states save the claims related to HB2 and Title IX from running a red, but they do get a yellow light on our fact checking scale.

Of course, in Binker’s article, multiple opponents of the bill, including Brook, point out that there is ample evidence that the legislation’s stance on transgender-friendly policies could eventually pose problems for the state.

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Group warns of potential problems for achievement school districts in North Carolina

Rep.-Bryan-Achievement-SchoWhile lawmakers on a state House committee considered a timetable for approval of legislation creating achievement school districts Wednesday, an official representing local school boards warned legislators that there could be legal troubles ahead for the controversial school reform method.

“While we are now on version 51 (of this bill), there are still tons of unanswered questions,” said Bruce Mildwurf, associate director of government relations for the N.C. School Boards Association.

The proposal, championed by Rep. Rob Bryan, a Mecklenburg County Republican, would carve some chronically struggling schools into one state-run school district in which school management could be delegated to for-profit charter operators.

Mildwurf told the House Select Committee on Achievement School Districts that at least a couple of components of the bill could pose problems for local boards.

Firstly, Mildwurf pointed out the draft legislation holds local school boards responsible for maintenance and upkeep in the school buildings after charter operators take over the facility.

“As you know, there is very little money out there districts currently have for this stuff,” said Mildwurf. “Who determines what repairs are needed? Who’s liable for injuries?”

Mildwurf also pointed out that, in Tennessee, charter operators running schools in the achievement district have the flexibility to run the school on an amended calendar with different hours.

Given that the bill indicates local school systems would be charged with continuing transportation to the school, he said that schedule could be a major problem for local school bus fleets.

“How can the district be held responsible for that transportation if they go to school on Saturday?” he added. “If they get out at 5 o’clock?”

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House leader questions fiscal feasibility of achievement school districts in North Carolina

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

N.C. Rep. Rob Bryan, a Republican from Mecklenburg County and perhaps the legislature’s biggest champion of achievement school districts, unveiled a new draft of the bill Wednesday that would legalize the controversial model in North Carolina, but at least one powerful House Republican questioned whether the state could afford the reforms.

Bryan told legislators on the House Select Committee on Achievement School Districts that he hoped the panel would take a vote on the bill by mid-April, in time for the full legislature’s reconvening on April 25.

Achievement school districts would allow state leaders to pull chronically low-performing schools into one district, regardless of geography, and possibly turn over management of the schools, including staffing powers, to charter operators.

However, Rep. Craig Horn, the Republican from Union County who chairs the House Education Appropriations Committee, seemed to question the likelihood of its approval in the legislature’s short session this year, noting it’s unclear how much support the proposal has in the state Senate.

Committee members heard dueling presentations on the district’s use in Tennessee in recent years following a $500 million federal grant, with at least one district leader in Tennessee touting it as a boon for students, despite middling numbers reported by Vanderbilt University education researcher Gary Henry.

But, on Wednesday, Horn emphasized that the bill has a “critical” need for community buy-in.

“Tennessee has spent over a half a billion dollars on this,” Horn added. “How are we going to find the money for this? Where do we have reason to believe that we can find that kind of money available in North Carolina at this point?”

The new draft of the bill released Wednesday includes a handful of additions to the proposal, including the use of “iZones,” a locally-run method of school turnaround involving new flexibility, funding and development that reported “significant” gains in school performance in Tennessee, according to Henry.

Bryan emphasized Wednesday that the achievement school districts would be one component of a school turnaround platform that includes district- and state-led interventions as well as “iZones.”

“I don’t view it as a silver bullet to miraculously solve all these problems,” said Bryan.