For the past decade, North Carolina’s legislative leaders have prioritized tax cuts over providing students with public schools that meet constitutional standards. The obvious results of these misguided policy priorities have been documented by researchers at the Education Law Center, who show that North Carolina’s school finance system is among the worst in the nation.
Education Law Center’s Making the Grade 2021 report rates all 50 states and the District of Columbia along three important measures of school funding:
- Funding level: Per-pupil revenue from state and local sources, adjusted for regional differences in labor costs
- Funding distribution: The extent to which additional funds are distributed to school districts with high levels of student poverty
- Funding effort: Funding allocated to support PK-12 public education as a percentage of the state’s GDP
North Carolina earns a grade of F for funding level, with just four states having a lower funding level. North Carolina’s cost-adjusted per-student funding level ($10,595) falls a whopping 43 percent short of the national average ($15,114).
The state receives middling marks for funding distribution, with highest-poverty districts receiving just slightly more funding (about 7 percent) than the lowest-poverty districts.
Finally, North Carolina receives an F in terms of funding effort. Only Arizona and the District of Columbia dedicate a smaller share of their economy to public schools than we do in North Carolina. Our low funding effort shows that our low funding level is due to misguided policy choices, not fiscal constraints.
While the report paints a grim picture of school finance and our state lawmakers’ twisted priorities, there is good news for North Carolina’s schools. As a result of North Carolina’s long running Leandro Court case, the state has a detailed plan to create a school system that finally meets the bare minimum of what our constitution promises by 2028. A central pillar of the Leandro Plan is a finance system that’s both adequate and equitable.
The Plan – based on two years of study from some of the country’s top, nonpartisan education experts – will substantially increase funding in all districts, but especially in those districts with the greatest barriers to student success. The Every Child NC coalition has created a tool so you can see how the Plan will benefit your school district.
As the Education Law Center report shows, the challenges facing our schools are stark. However, the report also shows that North Carolina can readily afford to create a system that’s adequate and equitable. All we need now is the political will.