NC JUSTICE CENTER REPORT: Smart Money - Investing in Student Achievement

By Cedric Johnson & Matt Ellinwood
A Joint Report by the Budget & Tax Center and the Education & Law Project
November 2013

North Carolina’s state support for education and other public investments, measured as a share of the state’s economy, is below its 40-year average and this jeopardizes gains in student performance and the state’s economic future. Despite a modest recovery in state revenue since the end of the recession, North Carolina has failed to regain the ground lost during that prolonged economic downturn. For the fiscal year (FY) that began July 1, total spending for K-12 education is $563 million less than it was six years ago when adjusted for inflation.

Significant cuts in state funding have meant fewer classroom teachers and teacher assistants, no salary increase for teachers, and funding cuts for textbooks and instructional supplies. The FY2014 budget provides $653 fewer dollars per student compared to six years ago when adjusted for inflation, even though today more than 48,000 additional students are in the state’s public schools compared to six years ago.

This abandonment of investment is a significant turnaround in a state that has long recognized the importance of education as a pathway to increased opportunity for individuals and a more competitive state economy. North Carolina led southern states in establishing a public university system, universal public K-12 education, and a statewide early childhood education system. Generations of North Carolinians committing to investments in public education helped all students have the chance for the high-quality education crucial to improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities.

The state’s new direction raises concerns about what the failure to invest in public education means for future student performance. Though many who have supported the state’s reduced commitment to public education claim that the level of spending has no impact on improving student achievement, the reality is that while spending alone cannot guarantee student success, widespread increased performance is not possible without such investment. Focusing spending on areas proven to have the greatest impact – early childhood education, teacher development, smaller classes, and extended instructional learning time, for example – will boost student outcomes in math and reading test scores and reduce the achievement gap between at-risk students from low-income families and their peers from more affluent families.

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