This week, the General Assembly announced which legislators will serve on the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform. The Task Force, created via the 2017 budget bill, is charged with developing recommendations to radically overhaul North Carolina’s school finance system. A serious review of North Carolina’s school finance system could substantially benefit the state. School funding matters, particularly for students in low-income families. Unfortunately, early indications suggest that the Task Force is uninterested in reforms that would actually improve educational delivery in the state.
School finance can seem quite complicated. Revenue for public schools is collected from a variety of sources. In North Carolina, approximately 63 percent of funding comes from the state, 26 percent from local funds, and 11 percent from the federal government. These funds are then distributed to 115 school districts and 173 charter schools using a number of formulas; some of which can be quite simple, others quite complicated. To make things more complicated, each state has a unique method for collecting school revenues and distributing those funds to school districts. It’s all too easy to get lost in the weeds.
Yet school finance is quite simple when we take a step back from the details. Ultimately, we want to know two things:
- Are we providing enough money to allow every school district to develop students who are ready to successfully enter college or a career?
- Is school funding being distributed in accordance with student need, ensuring that a child has the same opportunities for success regardless of zip code or family circumstances?
In school-finance terms, the first question asks whether our school funding is “adequate.” The second question is asking whether school funding is “equitable.”
Unfortunately, the Task Force isn’t required to examine either of these issues. Despite the efforts of the education community, General Assembly budget writers refused to add language requiring the Task Force to examine the adequacy or equity of North Carolina’s school finance system. This is the equivalent of someone confronting their weight problem, but refusing to consider their diet or exercise. Read more