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Sunday, November 21, 2010

North Carolina Public Schools Severely Underfunded & Unfair

Report: N.C. At Bottom On Funding Public Schools

a startling headline. The report says the N.C. Education system is one of the worst-funded in the United States. But here's the kicker: This report doesn't even account for the gouges the state took out of education funding over the past two years as the economy sank like a brick.

This report is mostly based on data from 2007 and earlier. Lawmakers have cut education since then. And with an expected budget shortfall of at least $3.5 billion for the next fiscal year, deeper cuts loom. A Republican-controlled legislature is already laying out plans for huge spending cuts to balance the budget.

The N.C. Justice Center report should be a big caution flag to indiscriminate public education cuts. Such cuts could mean fewer high-quality teachers and resources. That would likely hurt students' academic progress, leading to more dropouts and graduates who are less prepared for higher learning or the workforce. That leads to more government spending on people who get involved in crime or who need public assistance. It also reduces the available taxpayers needed to help a community survive and thrive.

The Justice Center report analyzed data from a variety of sources, all of which put North Carolina near the bottom nationally on supporting and funding public schools. Data from the New Jersey-based Education Law Center show North Carolina as one of four states with below average ratings on funding, funding distribution based on poverty and the amount of spending compared with state per-capita Gross Domestic Product (the law center dubs this "effort"). North Carolina got a D for funding distribution and an F for effort.

Additionally, U.S. Census data (for 2007) ranked North Carolina 45th in the nation in per-pupil spending. Education Week magazine ranked the state 46th in adequacy and equity of spending.

Some will disagree with the rankings. After all, recent governors - from Jim Hunt to Bev Perdue - have all vied for the mantle of education governor by pushing for and getting needed reforms, especially in pre-kindergarten and high school.

But this report underscores how much this state still lags others, especially in supporting high-poverty urban districts - that would include Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools - and rural districts.

The report highlights the N.C. teacher allocation formula - a flat grant system that does little to provide districts such as CMS with money for teachers based on the number of students living in poverty. The report also raises questions about whether poor rural districts, which led a lawsuit against the state several years ago, are getting enough money from the fund set up as a result.

Lawmakers and other policymakers should pay attention to these issues. Indiscriminate education cuts could hurt all of us. Wield the budget knife with care.

More Budget Cuts Coming For Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board members have to look at more budget cuts that could impact programs, positions and even per-pupil spending.

The board members heard the dire budget news from Superintendent Dr. Peter Gorman at a meeting Friday afternoon.

With the state projecting a budget shortfall of at least $3 billion and a loss of federal stimulus money, that could mean a loss of $100 million to CMS. That would come out to about 10 percent of the budget.

Gorman told the board, "The reality is there will be cuts. The cuts will be severe, very severe."

"This storm we have been preparing for is upon us," said board Chairman Eric Davis.

Recent school closings are expected to save $10 million in the first two years and $6 million each year after that. However, more cuts will have to be made.

The cuts could mean slashing the amount spent on each pupil from $1,000. to $500.

Board members will hold several more meetings to discuss what programs to cut. Also at issue will be teacher salaries and even books.

No final decision will be made by the board until after the New Year.

N.C.'s Lowest-Performing Schools Getting Federal Grants

Twenty five of North Carolina's lowest-performing schools are getting more than $65.4 million in federal school improvement grants over the next three years to improve student achievement.

One of those schools, the Durham Performance Learning Center, is getting nearly $2 million. The alternative high school serves students who risk dropping out because they're far behind academically.

“We have a chance to transform the Durham Performance Learning Center school,” said Principal Dan Gilfort.

This year, 55 percent of DPLC students passed end-of-course tests. The school plans to start an academic readiness center for eighth- and ninth-graders, focusing on reading and math.

Gilfort said he is will hire nine more staff members, including English teachers, math teachers, a literacy specialist, a social worker and guidance counselor.

“The small setting where the kids are more well-known by their teachers, where kids get more individualized instruction, is a better thing,” he said. “We’ll have resources in terms of social workers and counselors to make sure that those things going (on) outside of school aren’t such a factor that (it) hinders them going in(to) school.”

Gilfort says there is definitely pressure. The school must show that it's meeting certain goals.

“It’s a challenge I relish and really look forward to it,” he said.

North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction will review the school's progress annually to determine if the grant should be renewed. The federal funds were awarded by formula to states, which then made competitive grants available to school districts.

The expected reforms are large in scale and the money can in no way be used to fill in state revenue holes.

The following districts will receive grant funds. The model the districts will employ in its schools is noted along with the school(s) and the grant total:

* Anson County Schools (Anson Challenge Academy), $2,436,215
* Brunswick County Schools (Brunswick County Academy), $1,996,081
* Buncombe County Schools (Buncombe Community-East School), $2,330,198
* Burke County Schools (Burke Alternative School –West), $980,896
* Cumberland County Schools (Walker-Spivey School), $1,906,662
* Davidson County Schools (Davidson County Extended Day School), $2,069,211
* Durham Public Schools (Durham's Performance Learning Center), $1,996,153
* Winston-Salem/Forsyth Schools (Kennedy Learning Center, Petree Elementary School), $2,084,108/$2,704,108
* Gaston County Schools (Warlick Learning Community Middle/High School), $2,312,198
* Guilford County Schools (Oak Hill Elementary School), $2,864,207
* Halifax County Schools (Enfield Middle School, Southeast Halifax High School), $2,083,148/$2,909,148
* Hickory City Schools (Catawba Valley High School), $2,270,207
* Jackson County Schools (Jackson County School of Alternative Education), $2,036,206
* Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (E.E. Waddell High School, West Mecklenburg High School), $3,666,133/$4,644,698
* Nash-Rocky Mount Schools (W.L. Greene Alternative School), $1,788,099
* Pitt County Schools (Farmville Central High School, North Pitt High School, South Central High School), $2,286,400/$2,614,000/$3,269,200
* Public Schools of Robeson County (Fairmont High School, Lumberton Senior High School), $3,136,117/$6,000,000
* Rowan-Salisbury Schools (Henderson Independent High School), $2,164,198
* Wayne County Schools (Goldsboro High School), $2,886,144

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Sources: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Education Week, McClatchy Newspapers, N.C. Justice Center, WCNC, WRAL, Google Maps

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