Wake County Schools

Wake schools prove top test scores don't always mean top funding

Posted June 4, 2012
Updated June 6, 2012

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— In Wake County, parents and teachers often pick up the slack when funding isn't there. They do fundraising for supplies, get grants and even pay salaries for extra instructors. With that effort, Wake County schools have been able to maintain top tier test scores while funding has lagged behind. Now, school officials say they need some help.

The Wake County Public School System has received about $314 million a year for the last few years from county commissioners. The amount has remained flat because of the down economy.

That breaks down to about $2,146 per student, which puts Wake County 24th out of 115 school districts when it comes to the amount of money coming from the local government. When adding in state and federal dollars, Wake County drops in rank to 102.

When looking at local funding, the Town of Chapel Hill, the City of Asheville and Dare County are on the top of the list for per-pupil spending. Chapel Hill-Carrboro spends about $4,779 per pupil, Asheville spends about $4,581 per pupil and Dare County spends about $4,489.

Chapel Hill is a top performer on test scores, but Wake performs nearly as well as or better than Asheville and Dare. Wake County schools is in the top 25 for highest test score results for grades 3 through 8 in reading and math.

There is an economy of scale issue to consider when comparing the districts, because dollars can be spent more efficiently when spread out over a much larger population like Wake County's student population. Still, Wake Superintendent Tony Tata says the school system is "a great deal for the Wake County taxpayer."

Tata said he wants the county to kick in more money, about $9 million more than last year. The county is offering an increase of $3.9 million. County commissioners are expected to vote on the budget June 18.

While the school system as a whole does well, Tata says certain groups of children are not.

“We have huge achievement gaps here. In Wake County, we have students with disabilities, limited English, low income, all performing below the state average in aggregate,” he said.

High school band Parents pick up funding slack for Wake schools

In addition to the school system operating budget, the county pays to build schools. Growth in Wake County can add 3,000 to 4,000 new students per school year.

County Manager David Cooke said he believes Wake is likely No. 1 when it comes to spending on school construction because of recent population growth. The county is currently working on its budget proposal.

"That number in our budget is $175 million this year," Cooke said.

Parents like Shannondoah Deaver are the ones pulling extra duty when budgets get cut. She volunteered to do office work to make up for the administrative position cut from her child's school last year.

“We are going to do whatever it takes to hold this school up,” she said.

At Athens Drive High School, the booster’s budget is more than $200,000, which helps pay for coaches, equipment, instruments and three additional band instructors.

In the classroom, teachers hustle to find grants to get supplies.

“We get money from Staples, Target, grants. We all apply for grants and get stuff, like my box light, which allows me to project and do all this interactive stuff,” said pre-calculus teacher Chris Remaley.

Parent Debbie Kline says she regularly brings in copy machine paper to help her school.

“Paper is gold to teachers,” she said. “We come together and we’re a great team. I have a feeling there are a lot of schools in Wake County that have a great team.”

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  • westernwake1 Jun 5, 2012

    "You answered both of our questions, but specific to Fairfax/Monty vs Wake, I'd say that both the northern counties have the benefit of a more educated population, being that both are in proximity to DC and the job market there" - t*atts1000

    Just as a follow-up note, Fairfax and Montgomery have a much great percentage of the population with a Bachelor's degree or higher (pct of persons age 25+). In Fairfax, 58.0% has a Bachelor's degree or higher; in Montgomery it is 56.7%. The number in Wake is 47.4%

    You can look up these figures at the Census website -
    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/37/37183.html

  • westernwake1 Jun 5, 2012

    "neighborhood schools - westernwake1....Wakecares never stops....even after the debacle of their elected officials...amazing how things get skewed when people listen to those who purport to have the facts...Obama was once convincing until...."- tired2

    So when a study funded by the Wake County School System by the earlier Democratic board showed that students bussed for diversity lagged in performance to children sent to their local neighborhood school across all racial groups - I take this was not enough evidence to convince that hard-core social engineers that bussing for diversity does nothing to enhance educational achievement.

    Bonus Question - Over 95% of the school districts in the U.S. use a neighborhood assignment model - including most school districts in North Carolina. Can you explain why we should not follow this successful model?

    Note the "choice model" currently implemented by Wake County is not a neighborhood school model that was wanted by the Republican board.

  • tired2 Jun 5, 2012

    neighborhood schools - westernwake1....Wakecares never stops....even after the debacle of their elected officials...amazing how things get skewed when people listen to those who purport to have the facts...Obama was once convincing until....

  • csui Jun 5, 2012

    Also, note in Montgomery MD and Fairfax VA there is a large population of students that attend private schools. Yes, the children do have the option of public neighborhood schools and children are also bused into the neighborhoods because of economics. For example I lived in a more affluent neighborhood, but my cousin did not and was bused into my school area. Our parents stressed education in the household and we both did well @ the school even though we came from different areas of MD. Again it's the parenting and stressing the importance of education.

  • Krimson Jun 5, 2012

    "So if these are viewed as comparable school systems then Wake is still lagging by more than 10 percentage points. Is it due to the greater spending in these other counties? Is it due to these counties not using a failed diversity policy for 30 years? Or some other factor?"

    "There are more factors than spending alone that come into play in regards to school system success. Competent administration, strong teachers, reasonable policies, parental support, neighborhood schools, and other factors are also critical to success."

    You answered both of our questions, but specific to Fairfax/Monty vs Wake, I'd say that both the northern counties have the benefit of a more educated population, being that both are in proximity to DC and the job market there... Also there is no need for a Diversity Policy in Farifax, since the City Planners already enforce one by requiring developers to build mixed use neighborhoods... Fairfax also has a Teacher's Union...

  • bravesfan1956 Jun 5, 2012

    This proves it is not all about the "Benjamins".

  • csui Jun 5, 2012

    The key is the parents involvement and stressing the importance of education in the household. I am a parent that experienced being educated in Montgomery County, MD prior to moving to Wake County. I often gather materials from my sister who teaches in Montgomery to enhance my sons learning. The schools can't do it all and parents need to remind themselves they also are teachers.

  • starvingdog Jun 5, 2012

    Interesting to me that the article included Dare County as part of the comparison. Might some of Dare's per-pupil spending be a result of geography? Hatteras has an elementary, middle and high school, serving the southern Dare County area. Certain economies of scale in buildings, utilities etc simply aren't available to smaller schools. It's about 70 miles from Hatteras to Manteo. The part of the story about Wake does seem to indicate that money alone is not the only answer.

  • Lamborghini Mercy Jun 5, 2012

    Three main factors in a student's learning potential; Parents, Student, then Teachers, in that order. Parents have to set the tone early in life for that child so when that child becomes of age they are willing to succeed. Teachers can only motivate and attempt to teach kids that are willing to learn. I think Wake County students do better because most parents here went to college and earn more than most other county's in NC.

  • westernwake1 Jun 5, 2012

    "Bet the liberals and Bev Perdue are going crazy trying to figure out to spin this one." - ConservativeVoter

    Not really - the "spin" is very easy on this one. Comparable school systems to Wake across the United States spend on average over $4000 more per student each school year than Wake. The test results of these school systems (in terms of passing rates) are on average 10% greater than Wake. The SAT scores, etc. of these school systems are also higher than Wake.

    The answer from Bev and others is that Wake needs to spend $4000 more per pupil in order to achieve similar results. Is this the correct answer, I don't know. There are more factors than spending alone that come into play in regards to school system success. Competent administration, strong teachers, reasonable policies, parental support, neighborhood schools, and other factors are also critical to success.

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