Local News

Are North Carolina Schools on a Shoestring Budget?

Posted April 1, 2008 6:27 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2008 9:24 p.m. EDT

— When it comes to money spent on education, North Carolina is near the bottom of the barrel.

Nationwide, public school districts spend an average of $9,138 per student. That is federal, state and local funds combined.

North Carolina falls $1,750 short of the average, and that leaves it 44th in the nation, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

“This report shows money does make a difference in the quality of education,” Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said.

New York spends the most, $14,884 per student. Atkinson used Massachusetts – which is near the top of the Census money report – as an example of a state where test scores are also higher. She said she wants to see more state money spent on teacher salaries and technology.

North Carolina relies heavily on state funding, which may be a reason it ranks below other states that use more local funds.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, hesitates to take the Census ranking at face value. He said that if the figures were adjusted for the cost of living in the various states, North Carolina would rank higher.

There is also a concern with local governments having the power to raise property taxes in order to allot more monies to education.

“I don't have a lot of people asking me to please raise their property tax,” said Joe Bryan, Wake County Board of Commissioners chair.

Bryan said budgets are a yearly struggle.

“It gets down to trying to balance what is a reasonable amount for investment and accountability. And you have to get the public to buy in as well,” he said.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina has studied funding for more than 20 years.

“When it comes to school funding, everyone points fingers. There's always blame,” said John Dornan, of the Forum, a nonprofit think-tank that tracks county school spending every year.

North Carolina's statewide test scores rank around the national average. But the Wake County Public School System is a nationally recognized leader, with high scores and other academic achievements. In February 2004, Forbes magazine ranked the school system third in the nation for “Best Education in the Biggest Cities.”

To bring the Tar Heel state up to the national average for monies spent, an additional $2 billion would need to go toward public education this year.

Wake County is slightly closer to the mark – the school system would have to come up with $222 million more.