Funding gap between rich and poor districts grows in North Carolina

Public School Forum of North Carolina study says the 10 wealthiest counties spend more than four times as much per student as the 10 poorest counties.

A study by the Public School Forum of North Carolina has found a growing gap in public school funding between the highest and lowest-wealth counties in the state.

The 2017 Local School Finance Study found that the 10 highest-spending counties spent on average $3,026 per student compared with $710 by the 10 lowest spending counties. Orange County, at the top of the list, spends more than 12 times more per student than Swain County at the bottom.

In 2014-2015, the 10 highest-spending counties spent 4.26 times more per child than the 10 lowest-spending counties.

“North Carolina’s wealthiest counties are able to invest much more in their local schools because they have a much higher property value base to generate revenue,” says Public School Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston. “...The 10 poorest counties tax themselves at a much higher rate than the 10 wealthiest counties in an effort to keep up, but simply can’t because the amount of revenue that can be generated is substantially lower due to the small tax bases.”

In 2014-2015, the 10 poorest counties taxed themselves at nearly double the rate of the 10 wealthiest counties.

State lawmakers are considering changes to North Carolina's school funding formula, but Poston says: “Our concern is that a new system alone that does not address adequacy and equity will not change these trend lines and will continue to leave poorer counties behind. We encourage our legislators to ensure that adequacy and equity in school finance remain top priorities.”

For more than 25 years, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has isolated local spending from state and federal spending to examine the capacity and actual effort of counties to support public schools.

On average, the highest-spending counties increased their spending by 3.8 percent more per child this year since last year ($110 more per student). The lowest-spending counties increased their average spending per student by .8 percent ($5 per student).

“The end result is our poorest counties continue to fall further behind our wealthier counties in terms of resources available to their local schools,” Poston says.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina is a non-partisan group of business, education and government leaders advocating for better schools in the state.

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