NC education spending on decades-long slide

Posted July 8, 2014

— North Carolina public schools account for the largest segment of the state budget every year, but that slice of the budget pie has been shrinking for years.

WRAL News reviewed budget numbers for the last 30 years and found that the percentage of general fund dedicated to K-12 classrooms has been on a long, slow slide, even as the total dollars for education increased.

In 1984-85, the $1.89 billion authorized for public education accounted for 43.7 percent of the budget. A decade later, the $4.08 billion authorized in the budget was 42 percent of the 1994-95 budget. By 2004-05, the state was spending $6.52 billion on public schools, which accounted for 41.1 percent of the state budget.

The slide has accelerated in recent years because of the national recession, and the $7.9 billion authorized in the 2013-14 budget meant only 37 percent of the general fund was earmarked for public schools. Even with the North Carolina Education Lottery chipping in money for school construction and early childhood education, per-pupil spending has dropped since the lottery started eight years ago.

"As we take all this money out of things that really affect the classroom, it's hard to see how we're going to improve student achievement," said Matt Ellinwood, an education policy analyst with the left-leaning North Carolina Budget & Tax Center.

Ellinwood sighed when asked why the percentage of the budget dedicated to public schools has consistently dropped over the years.

"It's weird because the question is why would you ever back off of that," he said.

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House Minority Leader Larry Hall said education funding became an easy target during economic downturns, and lawmakers never restored what was taken from schools when the economy rebounded.

"I think people have not had the full understanding of education in our overall economy, and so, they've looked for places to take money out of the budget," said Hall, D-Durham. "I think that focus was lost, and we need to get it back."

As the public education slice has been cut, spending on the Department of Health and Human Services, including Medicaid, has accounted for more of the budget pie. Less than 16 percent of the budget went to DHHS 30 years ago, but that is now up to about a quarter of state spending.

WRAL News found that, if K-12 education had the same funding support they did in the mid-1980s, public schools would have an extra $1 billion a year in state money, which could average teacher salaries above the national average and could boost spending on items such as textbooks, where North Carolina now spends only $15 a year per student.

"It's sad. It breaks my heart, but it is the reality we live in," said Katie Holloman, the reigning Teacher of the Year at Oak Grove Elementary School in Cary. "You can only do so much with the resources you have, and I can only give so much of my pocket to the classroom.

"I'm still going to do my job, and I'm still going to serve my children the best way I can, but (a continual money squeeze) changes the way they learn," Holloman said.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jul 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Translation: "I don't believe that salary = salary, so I want to see if some other statistics can blur the fact that is staring me in the face, that NC teacher pay is 46th out 50 States."

  • Doug Pawlak Jul 10, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    We're talking apples to apples here. State comparison shows an undeniable link to states that spend the most, getting the best results. International comparisons don't allow for differences in measurements and a whole lot of other variables such as culture, methods of reporting, who gets tested, measuring college costs as education spending etc.

  • woodrowboyd5 Jul 9, 2014

    This argument has been going on for years.
    When will you learn that there is no amount of dollars you could put into this school system that would make it better.
    No amount you pay a teacher will improve the students learning.
    Education starts at home not after a child starts school.
    As for being the GOPs fault who has been in charge for the longer time.
    Was a better student produced under the dems watch?
    Iam 64 and all my life all i have heard is we need to put more money in schools.Just how much is ever enough for a goverment ran failed system?Answer there isnt going to ever be enough.

  • btneast Jul 9, 2014

    Why would I "come up with something more original" when the stone cold truth will do? You sadly have no clue. The tax changes that were implemented saved me quite a bit , and I am far from rich. You parrot what you hear others say, little of what you spout has any basis in personal experiences.

  • btneast Jul 9, 2014

    Well, actually that's wrong. More money does equate to better student performance. Look at the states who spend the most money
    You better go back and look at International performance by spending per pupil.......

  • wilson3 Jul 9, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Well, actually that's wrong. More money does equate to better student performance. Look at the states who spend the most money.

  • Wanda Seamans Jul 9, 2014
    user avatar

    Here's a suggestion....everyone that is collecting an unemployment check can volunteer at a local school for one day a month as a teacher's assistant and use that money to buy books and supplies for the children. Also why are we paying for janitors/cafeteria workers when we have so many people on unemployment? And, since I'm on a roll, how about when a student does not behave in class their parent/guardian must come & sit beside the student to at least make sure the student does not stop any others from learning? Teaching your children how to behave in class should start at home!!

  • Super Hans Jul 9, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Why would I "come up with something more original" when the stone cold truth will do?

  • btneast Jul 9, 2014

    Don't worry, once the GOP has finished making their rich cronies richer by taking from the poor and middle class, Oh good grief....can't you come up with something more original? You sound like you are quoting lines from a 1970's play about an Economics professor at Elon.

  • Jack Jones Jul 9, 2014
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    Actually there would be more "eggs in the basket" if the new Tillis McCrory Berger "Friends & Family" tax cuts were reversed. Redistributing wealth up to the top NC families doesn't help the economy or create jobs.