The Economics of Education in North Carolina: Superintendents’ Perspectives

At North Carolina Central University on February 3, 2015, four NC superintendents sat down for a forum discussing the financial issues within our system of education. The goal of the discussion was to help the public understand how the state budget affects public education. This event, presented by the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham, and Chatham Counties and the university, was titled Economics of Education: What We Owe our Children and our Nation;the theme was clearly equity. The superintendents on the panel were Dr. Del Burns, Orange County Schools; Dr. Tom Forcella, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools; Dr. Derrick Jordan, Chatham County Schools; and Dr. Bert L’Homme, Durham County Schools

While each superintendent said much more than can ever be contained in single blog entry, I wanted to represent each message through a series of take-away statements that stood out to me, both as a teacher and a parent.

Dr. Del Burns:

  • The greatest inequity in our state is in education funding. The per pupil expenditure from local funds across the state ranges from just over $300 per student to over $4,000 per student. This is due to the ability of some local communities to fill the gaps left by the state budget through property taxes and sales tax.
  • “It matters where you live.”
  • State funds have decreased more than 20% over the past several years.
  • Engage all community stakeholders by asking: What is the community’s vision for the public school system?
  • Become informed and then talk to people ”outside the room,” people who are on the other side of the issues, people who may not understand. Engage in a lot of conversation in order to raise awareness and call stakeholders to action. So often we are preaching to the choir, which is much less effective than conversing with those with different views.
  • Understand that NC is NOT a purple state. It is deep blue and deep red.

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Dr. Tom Forcella:

  • All that we do should be about our most precious commodity, our children.
  • “There doesn’t seem to be the will on the part of the legislature to turn this around.”
  • The state must think about who we are attracting to come and teach our children. This is about more than salary. Teachers care much more about children and their working environments than they do about their salary. We must ask: How can we pull in good people into the profession?
  • At this point there is a lot of state control and much of that control needs to be passed back to the local level.

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Dr. Derrick Jordan:

  • When the state eliminated the growth formula within the education budget, it caused an equity issue for counties that are growing rapidly. These counties cannot receive an increase in funds for these new students until after the school year has begun, so the local budget must carry this weight, decreasing the per pupil expenditure.
  • The state has cut professional development funds; the counties are not able to supplement this. Therefore, the state is constantly asking teachers to improve without any support or development opportunities.
  • 1 million dollars equals only 18 teachers; therefore, a lack of funds is resulting in larger class sizes.
  • There is a gross lack of resources due to budgetary cuts; this is resulting in negative impacts for all of our students.

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Dr. Bert L’Homme:

  • In Durham, the local property and sales tax revenue have been able to fill in the financial gaps created by the dwindling state budget, yet this is coming to an end as the county is struggling to maintain this funding balance. “Local budgets are to supplement, NOT supplant.”
  • Charter school populations have increased by 77% over the past several years. Each child that leaves for a charter school takes with them the local funds, creating an equity gap between traditional public schools and charter schools. Durham County Schools sends 16 million dollars annually to charter schools.
  • As funding is continually cut, the students who are affected most are those not in the “middle,” meaning that the programs that are having to be eliminated are those serving both gifted and special services students.
  • When the state legislature cut extra pay for Master’s degrees, it sent the message that its members do not value teacher education. Durham County Schools wants desperately to preserve their investment in teachers; this choice makes it much more difficult to recruit and retain high quality teachers.
  • “Our children cannot wait for us to get the funding right.” We must speak out, speak to our General Assembly, our neighbors, and all those who will listen about these budgetary issues.

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