Public School Forum of North Carolina
north carolina school finance

North Carolina study finds widening gap between rich and poor school districts

Feb. 25, 2020
The 2020 Local School Finance Study by the Public School Forum of North Carolina found that the gap between the the wealthiest and poorest counties is the largest in at least 30 years.

A widening wealth gap among counties in North Carolina has led to a growing disparity in the ability of counties to provide their schools with the resources they need.

The 2020 Local School Finance Study by the Public School Forum of North Carolina finds that wealthier counties are able to allocate more local dollars to public schools while simultaneously making less taxing effort—they can keep taxes low while generating significant revenue.

“Residents living in lower-wealth districts face substantially greater financial burden to support public education while still finding that their schools are more poorly resourced than those in wealthier counties,” the study says

The effects of the wealth disparities are far-reaching: salaries for teachers are higher in high-wealth larger districts; in low-wealth districts, school often are unable to offer the diversity of courses found in wealthier counties.

“While higher-wealth districts are able to tap deeper wallets as they cope with inadequate state-level investments, low-wealth districts must scramble to pull together scarce local resources to provide even the most basic classroom supplies such as paper, pencils and textbooks,” the study says.

The latest study found that in 2017-18, the state’s 10 counties that spent the most dollars per student averaged $3,305 in local spending per student; the 10 that spent the least averaged $782 per student. The gap of $2,523 between the top 10 and bottom 10 counties is the largest disparity since the Forum began tracking the figure in 1987.

“This discrepancy exists primarily because of the variation in property wealth across the state,” the study says.

The 10 wealthiest counties had an average real estate wealth per student of $1,955,100.31, and the 10 poorest counties had an average a real estate wealth per student of $403,100.75.

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