The audits in all 115 school districts, expected to cost about $300,000, will be conducted over the next several months by the state Department of Public Instruction, the state Board of Education and the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The audits go beyond the normal financial review conducted annually by school districts to match the allocation of funds to student performance, Easley said. The findings would help the state establish a set of "best practices" schools could use to boost student performance, whether that means adding technology, decreasing class sizes or retaining veteran teachers, he said.
"We don't have money to waste, and we don't have time to waste," he said. "We have to figure out how to get the best bang for our buck."
UNC researchers and school finance experts will study an existing database that includes student achievement, financial information and other data from every school district to determine if districts are using their money to improve the low-performing high schools. After identifying spending patterns that are most common among the schools with highest student achievement, they will be able to determine areas where changes in resource allocation at failing schools could improve their performance.
Researchers will then focus on districts with high schools that scored below 60 percent proficiency on end-of-course tests. Through interviews of school administrators and school board members, they can learn how budget decisions have been made and can provide recommendations on how to use funding to improve student performance.
"I want to make sure the money we're providing to help low-performing schools is being used to help those schools," Easley said. "I don't want to see it being spread across the board like we're seeing in some districts."
Easley and Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said they expect full support from school superintendents across the state.
"This is not a gotcha thing," Easley said. "It is a case of we're from Raleigh and we're here to really help."
A report on the first portion of the audit is expected to be complete by January, with the full report, including a detailed analysis and recommendations, done by next May.