North Carolina Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said Thursday if the state legislature stays on the right track, it will surpass court-orderered recommendations for education spending.
Last week, nonprofit education agency WestEd published an action plan that lawmakers would have to follow to make sure every student in the state gets an equal and quality education.
They recommended that North Carolina invest an additional $1.18 billion in early childhood school readiness programs; $15.5 million in professional development for teachers; and $6.9 billion over the next eight years to make sure students stay on grade-level.
Ballard said over the last eight years, the state has increased its K-12 education funding by a total of $9.2 billion. The state went from spending $7.2 billion in the 2010-2011 fiscal year to $9.5 billion in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to the Fiscal Research Division.
Based on this pattern, Ballard says North Carolina will have no issues going past the mark by 2028.
“The fact that we're already executing many of the WestEd policy recommendations and on track to exceed its funding recommendation gives me optimism that we can approach education policy over the next decade with a united front,” she said.
The order is part of the 1997 case Leandro v. the State of North Carolina. The plaintiffs in the case claim that students in poor districts were not receiving the same educational resources as students in wealthy districts.
They blamed the disparity on the lack of state funding and the subsequent burden on local governments. Poor districts could not retain high-quality educators or maintain school facilities or supplies, according to the lawsuit.
The court ruled that every child has a right to an education, and the state must safeguard that right. The report not only calls for additional spending but also outlines detailed instructions for improving the school system such as hiring diverse teachers, offering more transportation options, investing in professional training and academic intervention.
Yet, Ballard said an increase in spending does not always guarantee positive outcomes.
“Utah spends less per pupil than us and has better scores, while New York spends more per pupil and has worse scores,” she said.
Utah spent $7,179 per student in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau of Statistics. New York, on the other hand, spent $23,000 per student. North Carolina spends $9,072 per pupil. The national average is $12,201 per student.
Utah’s graduation rate was 0.5 percent higher than North Carolina’s in 2018 at 87 percent, according to the Board of Education, while New York’s graduation rate was 75.9 percent.
Socioeconomic factors such as family income, academic motivation and environment also play a role in educational outcomes, research shows.
North Carolina-based nonprofit WakeEd representatives said arguments like Ballard's on spending outcomes "miss the point entirely."
"North Carolina needs to stop treating education funding like a bill that’s come due and start treating it like an investment toward future gains."