Publisher's note: This post, by Bob Luebke, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
- NC Policy Watch references a study that cites disparities in local wealth as leading to disparities in education funding and work to shortchange poor districts
- The blog post conveniently omits from where schools derive the majority of funding.
- If anything, low-wealth districts tend to spend more per pupil
North Carolina's poor school districts are getting shortchanged on funding. That's the overall message from a recent blog post on NC Policy Watch; Monday numbers: A closer look at disparities in school funding
An even closer look at the article and the numbers reveal the post to be misinformed and misleading.
First, the post offers brief highlights of the annual Local School Finance Study
published by the Public School Forum. Clayton Henkel, the author of the post, says the disparities in wealth among school districts have real consequences and impact such things as a district's ability to recruit and retain teachers and how much they can spend on classroom supplies.
That some counties have more wealth than others is not news. It is, however, misleading to paint the picture that poor districts are chronically disadvantaged because of the disparities. To support her assertion, Henkel notes that the local spending gap between the top ten spending counties and the bottom ten spending counties in 2018 was $2,523 per student; and it's getting worse.
The problem is Henkel only tells half the story. She reports on the Local School Finance Study, and the focus is local schools. Fair enough. The implication is clear however; poor schools are getting shortchanged.
Henkel fails to mention that local funding makes up a little more than a quarter (26.3 percent) of all funding for public schools. State funding accounts for most of all funding, 63 percent, and federal funding accounts for another 11 percent of funds.
Henkel also omits any reference to funding streams that districts receive to help poor districts and certain populations. Every Student Succeeds Act, Individuals with Disabilities Act, Child Nutrition and Career and Technical Education are examples of federal funding that is targeted to poor districts and disadvantaged populations. In 2019, North Carolina received $1.5 billion in federal funding.
Henkel also ignores state funding districts can receive to offset disadvantages in wealth of student populations. These include options such as as At-Risk Student Services, Low Wealth Supplemental Funding, Small County Supplemental Funding and Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Funding.
Still, Henkel's implication is clear: the disparities in wealth clearly reflect a disparity between what poor and rich districts can spend on education. It's an oft-repeated assertion.
Is it true? If it is, it will be reflected in district per pupil spending levels.
According to the Statistical Profile
of North Carolina Public Schools, in 2018-19 school year, North Carolina schools spent $9,865 per student. This total includes state, local and federal funding.
To make her point about the disparities in wealth, Henkel posts a graphic comparing local per student spending in Orange County ($5,256 in 2017-18) against the combined bottom seven counties ranked by local spending ($4,876) and shows Orange County still exceeds the totals spent by the poorest counties.
If Policy Watch was truly interested in telling the whole story, the post would include how much poor districts spend on education.
And here is my point; when you include state, local and federal funding - it makes a difference in addressing those inequities.
In 2018-19, average total per pupil spending was $9,865. What was average total per pupil spending in the seven districts with the lowest local spending? Duplin County $10,168; Columbus County $10,205; Graham County $13,490, Greene County $10,731, Robeson County $10,413, Hoke County $9,523 and Swain County $11,737.
Of the seven counties with the lowest ranking for local spending, six of the counties exceeded the per pupil state average. Two of the counties, Graham ($13,490) and Swain County ($11,738) spent more than Orange County ($11,538), the county referenced as the wealthiest county.
Do schools that spend fewer local funds on schools get shortchanged in overall school funding? Not according to these figures.
Wealth and income do not correlate to actual spending.
This is a narrative that the Left perpetrates, but it's a myth.
In 2018 I did an analysis
of education spending of low and high income districts. The findings are relevant.
- The updated analysis finds no evidence to support the assertion that, on the whole, schools in higher income areas spend more than schools in low-income areas. Rather, the opposite seems to be true. Districts in communities with lower per capita rankings, frequently spend more per student than districts in communities that have higher per capita rankings.
- What accounts for these findings? Two reasons are worth mentioning. North Carolina public schools receive much of their funding (63 percent in 2016-17) from the state. A high percentage of state dollars tends to tamp down the large funding differences between districts in states whose schools are reliant on the property tax as a source of funding. In addition, many state and federal funding formulas are structured to benefit schools in low-income areas or benefit the populations that such schools frequently serve. These include Federal funds for Title I, special needs and at-risk populations. State funding formulas provide assistance for low wealth schools, disadvantaged populations, and small schools. These funding streams work to lessen the difference in funding between districts.
- From the results found here, it's difficult to assert that poor districts are shortchanged under the current system. That's not to say the current system of funding schools in North Carolina is perfect. It's not. It just means claiming the current system of funding public schools in North Carolina shortchanges poor communities is an assertion that lacks substantiation.
Now you know the complete story.