A new report from the Public School Forum of North Carolina shows a large and persistent resource gap for public schools between the highest and lowest wealth counties in the state. The 2013 Local School Finance Study found that in 2011-12, the state’s ten highest-spending counties spent an average of $59,280 more per classroom than the lowest-spending counties. The large gap exists primarily because of the variation in property wealth across the state.
“The study clearly shows how huge disparities in available real estate wealth lead to significant differences in the amount of tax dollars counties are able to contribute toward their public schools,” said Gene Arnold, Board Chairman, Public School Forum of North Carolina. “Counties with fewer resources struggle to update classrooms with relevant technology and have a difficult time recruiting and retaining the best teachers. These differences in what counties can do for schools lead to very different experiences for our students.”
The 25 wealthiest counties in North Carolina had an average of $1,494,504 real estate wealth available per child in 2011-12, while the bottom quartile had only $393,688 available per child. These numbers represent the per-child dollar amount of real estate wealth counties have available that can be taxed and drawn from to contribute to education and other county expenses.
The poorest counties tax themselves at nearly 43 cents above the wealthiest counties, on average, but the revenue generated by the taxation is still substantially less than that of the wealthiest counties. Orange County, the county with the highest spending on education, spends over ten times more per student than Swain County. The gap between the highest- and lowest-spending counties is $2,280 per child. The highest-spending counties and the lowest-spending counties have both decreased their average spending per student by $15 since last year.
The gap in real estate capacity between the highest and lowest wealth counties actually declined this year for the first time in over a decade. The decrease in the gap this year is due to a significant drop in real estate wealth in Brunswick County, one of the top wealthiest counties. Brunswick’s 2011 property revaluation found its worth to be about 25% lower than the previous valuation. The drop was enough to bring the average of the top counties down significantly, therefore reducing the gap in real estate capacity between the top and bottom counties.
Last year county governments in North Carolina provided a total of $2.55 billion for public education, which accounts for 24 percent of the total funds to North Carolina public schools. Using a combination of state, federal, and local resources North Carolina public schools spent $11.2 billion in the 2011-12 school year. State funding accounts for 62 percent of the total, with federal funding making up the remaining 14 percent.
For 25 years the Forum has isolated state and federal spending to examine the capacity and effort counties in North Carolina make to support their schools.