RALEIGH, NC (February 18, 2020) – A study released today by the Public School Forum of North Carolina once again illustrates a chronic and growing gap in local funding for public schools between the highest and lowest-wealth counties in the state.

The 2020 Local School Finance Study found that the ten highest spending counties spent on average $3,305 per student compared to an average of $782 per student by the ten lowest spending counties, with a gap of $2,523 per student. That gap is the largest since the Forum began tracking this figure in 1987.

“Year after year, our poorest counties fall further behind our wealthier ones in terms of resources available to their local schools,” said Dr. Michael D. Priddy, Acting President & Executive Director, Public School Forum of North Carolina. “These funding disparities have a real impact on educational opportunity for students, particularly in terms of the ability of lower wealth counties to fund local supplemental pay to attract and retain the teachers they need to serve students.”

In 2017-2018, the ten poorest counties taxed themselves at nearly double the rate of the ten wealthiest counties — $0.81 compared to $0.45, a 36-cent difference. Because of the disparities in real estate wealth, however, the revenue that the poorest counties could generate — even at their higher tax rates — was substantially lower than what the wealthier counties could generate. 

“Policy decisions at the state level have helped by providing supplemental funds for the state’s smallest and lowest-wealth counties, yet this is not enough to bridge the gap in what these districts are able to provide to their students,” said Public School Forum’s Senior Director of Policy, Dr. Lauren Fox. “North Carolinians living in lower wealth districts face an impossible financial burden to support public education; consequently, their schools are more poorly resourced than those in wealthier counties.”

During the course of the 25-year-old school funding case known as Leandro, the North Carolina Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged these educational inequities between low-wealth and high-wealth districts, and the Court has also made clear that it is the state that bears responsibility for fulfilling the constitutional obligation to guard and maintain the right of every North Carolina child to receive a “sound basic education.” 

In 2018, Judge David Lee, who now presides over the Leandro case, ordered WestEd, an independent educational consultant that was chosen and agreed upon by all parties to the case,

to analyze North Carolina’s school funding history, outcomes and structure and recommend ways for the state to comply with the Leandro rulings. In December 2019, WestEd released their findings as well as a sequenced action plan to meet the state’s constitutional obligation to provide each and every North Carolinian with a sound basic education. 

Following the release of WestEd’s report, Judge Lee signed a consent order in January 2020 that agrees with the conclusion by all parties in the Leandro suit that a definite action plan must be implemented this year for the successful provision of the constitutional Leandro rights — a sound basic education for all. The action plan is expected to be largely in line with the recommendations contained in the WestEd report. 

“We look forward to tracking these school funding developments throughout 2020 and moving forward throughout the next decade,” said Dr. Priddy. “It is our hope that our current and new leaders can come together with educators, families, community, and business leaders to prioritize and invest in the public education system that was promised to each and every one of our children, so that their constitutional right to a sound basic education will be realized, regardless of their background.”

The full report is available for download as a PDF below.

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About the Public School Forum of North Carolina

Since 1986, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has been an indispensable and nonpartisan champion of better schools and the most trusted source in the state for research and analysis on vital education issues. We bring together leaders from business, education and government to study education issues, develop ideas, seek consensus, and ultimately inform and shape education policy. We do that through research, policy work, innovative programs, advocacy, and continuing education for educators and policymakers. Follow us on Twitter @theNCForum and visit our website at http://www.ncforum.org/.

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