Greater funding doesn’t guarantee better education

Dec. 20, 2012 @ 05:00 AM

 

Providing an outstanding education for our children is, without question, one of the most important jobs we share. And how to determine what the appropriate costs for that cause will be is one of the most controversial.

With schools set to break for the Christmas holiday, and new elected officials taking office in Lee County and in Raleigh, the public should be prepared for another round of the education funding debate.

Those advocating for more funding of public schools, including current Gov. Bev Perdue, predicted that the budget passed by the Republican legislative majority in 2010 would virtually destroy the state’s public education system. Yet, the system survived.

Far from what some were saying, the Republican legislators increased the year-over-year spending for education. This is according to data recently released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI). (In North Carolina, state funding accounts for two-thirds of public school spending.)

Despite all that has been said, the state actually increased public education spending by $322 million between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. This represented an average of $200 per student. Of the 115 school districts across the state, only 13 received fewer state dollars than the year before.

What has not been widely conveyed is that federal funding was decreased by $234.5 million, or an average of $173 per student, between these school years. Local governments made up some of this difference by appropriating $7.4 million more than the year before. This, however, was not sufficient to account for the growth in the statewide enrollment. Thus, the average per-student spending dropped by $5.

As can always be expected, some school districts gained in per-student funding and some districts didn’t receive as much as the year before. Anson, Durham, Graham, Halifax and Tyrell received substantially more funding. The districts receiving much less were Asheboro, Hyde, Lexington, Mitchell and Washington.

In spite of the slight increase in state funding, the data shows that the number of classroom teachers declined by 230, or on average two teachers per school district. Fewer federal dollars — not state or local funding — is the probable cause for having fewer teachers in classrooms during the 2011-12 school year. The data also shows that, on average, first-grade classes added one more student in the 2011-12 school year, going from 19 to 20 students. Class sizes in kindergarten and second grade dropped from 20 to 19 students. On average, class sizes in all the other grades — including high school English, math and science courses — remained the same.

Gratefully, the dire prediction that reduced funding would cause North Carolina schools to collapse didn’t materialize. In fact some significant improvements were reported — not the least of which was that the state’s high school graduation rate climbed to an all-time high of 80.2 percent in 2012, up from 77.9 percent in 2011.

The data from DPI is instructive for state and local lawmakers. First, generous funding levels are not the cure-all that will ensure students a quality education. Second, money should be spent more wisely by the districts. Third, quality of education shouldn’t be measured in dollars and cents, but in students’ academic achievement.