Inequalities in a North Carolina Public Education
Inequalities in Education
North Carolina’s K-12 Public Education System has garnered national attention and controversy in recent months due to publicized protests from parents, teachers, and students in NC schools. The major concern stems from a lack of state funding and a growing disparity of funding on a county-to-county basis.
The state’s education system as we know it today, was formed in 1985 when the North Carolina General Assembly directed the state board to build a “Basic Education Program” (BEP for short). The BEP identified the components required for a school district to successfully educate all of its students. The components were grouped into allotments for the State, and the individual Districts’ Financial Officer to move funds into, based on formulas related to total number of students and their individual needs. For instance, an allotment for a teacher position is a set ratio depending on the age of students. Therefore, if a school has one hundred K-3 students, and the allotment calls for one teacher position per twenty-five students, then the school would receive funding for four teacher positions.
North Carolina’s current system of allotments has a base, which is funding every student receives, and supplemental funding for additional programs. The funding is broken up into two types, Position and Dollar. Position funding provides guaranteed funding for a certain number of positions based on the ratio of students to required staff at each position (ratio mandated by the state). The Position funding is flexible. A teacher with twenty-five years of experience and who earns a higher rate of pay from the state than a first-year instructor is still only counted as one position. The General Assembly states, “no matter where you are, hire the best teacher you can find, and the State will pay his/her State salary and benefits”. Dollar allotments in contrast are determined by monies per number of (applicable) students for things like textbooks, special education, and low wealth supplemental funding. There are twenty-five core allotment categories such as classroom teachers and textbooks, and additional program allotments such as summer reading camps or panic alarm updates that may be started or ended on a yearly basis.
The funding for these allotments goes to the 115 different state LEAs (school districts) and they distribute funds to each school based on their student population needs. The schools receive base funding per student and supplemental funding based on each students profile falling into certain allotment categories. For example, a school may receive only the base funds for one student and base funds plus supplementary funds for another student who is in an Academically or Intellectually Gifted program (AIG) and/or from a low income household. These funds stack based but on average approximately $9,528 is spent per student across the state (Public Schools First NC).
This system, although valid in theory is plagued by slow response times, county-by-county funding disparities, and underfunding.
The slow response times built into this system are present at every level and can leave teachers and schools stranded for months without funding or accomodation. For instance, should K-3 teacher’s class size exceed the state mandated student to teacher ratio, the teacher must make a report and submit it to the principal and superintendent. The superintendent then will determine if the requirements are met, and if they are not, he or she will make a report at the next local board meeting, which typically convenes monthly. If the local board cannot resolve the issue, they must apply for a State Board of Education additional personnel or a waiver through the State Board. Within forty-five days the Board must approve or deny the personnel or waiver. But, they are rarely approved with the state board citing, “Acts of God” and “unanticipated increases in individual school population by at least two percent” as some of the very few circumstances in which a request is approved. If the request manages to check off all of the aforementioned boxes, the State Board of Education will then have another thirty days to submit a report to the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations. Once the report is submitted, the waiver becomes effective and the school receives funding. (State Board of Education) This is just one of the many instances of a slow and bureaucratic system for which conciseness is foreign.
Disparities are also present in this system. Individual counties supplement state funding with revenue from local property taxes. Unfortunately, this means students in lower income counties with cheaper housing do not receive as much funding. In contrast students in more affluent counties receive more funding. Schools in Swain County, NC receive on average just $445 in addition to base state funding whereas institutions in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools receive on average $5,867 per student in addition to state funding (WUNC). This funding imbalance affects those most vulnerable. The economically disadvantaged receive a second rate education, limiting their financial mobility and growth. And so the cycle continues.
The North Carolina Education System requires more funding to solve a majority of its systemic issues such as increasing class sizes, lack of supplies, unequal distribution of resources. The state ranks 39th in per pupil spending and 37th in the nation for teacher pay, with the average annual salary amongst teachers breaking $50,000 (including county supplements) for the first time, in 2018 (News Observer). The national average for teacher pay in 2016-17 was $58,353 (National Educators Association). NC education funding has been consistently cut under the Republic legislature. In the 2008-09 school year NC was ranked 25th in the US.
North Carolina’s Public Education System is filled with diversity and an intense passion for learning amongst its students and teachers. Despite this, further funding is required for a successful education system that ensures every student their right to an equal opportunity education.