- A majority of poll respondents say that North Carolina public schools receive “too little” funding
- But a solid majority also have no idea how much is actually spent
- Once informed of the amount of spending, the number of people who think schools receive “too little” funding drops significantly
When you ask North Carolinians what issue they care most about they say education. When you ask them, what problem ails public education, more often than not, they say lack of funding.
According to a September 2018 Civitas Poll 70 percent of respondents believe, North Carolina spends “too little” on public education. However, when asked “How much do you think North Carolina spends per pupil in the state’s public schools?” only 8 percent had the correct answer ($9,001-$10,000).
Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) said North Carolina spent less than $5,000 per student. Another 15 percent said North Carolina spent between $5,001-$7,000.
Let that sink in; 63 percent of respondents believe North Carolina spends less than $7,000 per student to educate a child in the public schools.
When told North Carolina spends $9,172 per student to educate a child in the public schools, the percentage of voters who thought North Carolina spends “too little” decreased from 70 to 45 percent, while the percentage of respondents who said North Carolina’s per pupil spending on public education was “about right” increased from 16 to 24 percent.
Do these results represent an outlier? A June 2018 Civitas Poll asked if “North Carolina public schools receive sufficient funding to properly educate children.” A full 72 percent of respondents said no, more funding is needed. Twenty-one percent of respondents said schools receive sufficient funding and 7 percent didn’t know. When told North Carolina spends about $9,200 per student, the percentage of respondents who said “not enough money is spent to properly educate students” dropped from 72 percent to 56 percent, while the percentage of respondents who said enough money is spent to properly educate students increased from 21 percent to 27 percent.
The March 2014 Civitas poll asked respondents a similar series of questions with similar results. When asked to select between 12 different ranges of $1,000 how much North Carolina spends per pupil, only 6 percent of respondents choose the correct interval (between $8,000-$9,000 at that time). A full 47 percent of respondents said North Carolina spends less than $7,000 per student to educate children in the public schools.
So, what can we glean from these results? First, the above responses are certainly instructive. While there is a never-ending clamor from teacher and education groups to increase spending on the public schools, few if any taxpayers have any understanding about how much North Carolina spends on K-12 public education. When taxpayers do learn, their support for more funding for the public schools drops – by as much as 25 percentage points.
Second, North Carolina taxpayers are being asked to provide additional funding for the public schools. Polls ask: Are schools adequately funded? Or, do you support more funding for the public schools?
Results of such questions needs to be taken with a grain of salt in light of the fact that a sizeable majority of respondents don’t know how much is currently spent.
Moreover, maybe we’re asking the wrong questions altogether. Such questions assume the machinery is OK and all we need is more fuel — money. However, we all know that not to be the case. The policy discussion clearly needs to be broadened. The current discussion is focused almost exclusively on inputs. What about outputs?
Are North Carolinians satisfied with educational outcomes? What are taxpayers receiving for the $13.1 billion that is spent on K-12 public education? In the last 15 years schools have added more professional staff and administrators. This is money that doesn’t get into the classroom. Quality teachers deserve better pay, but they also deserve a system that rewards individual excellence – not disincentivizes it.
One subject noticeably missing from nearly every teacher pay discussion is benefits. In 2017, North Carolina spent $2.8 billion on employee benefits for educators and staff. The rising costs of health insurance and retirement programs influence how much funding state and local districts can provide for teachers. Finally, all fights over funding are ultimately about priorities and the competition for resources. We need to hear more about the fierce competition for resources among advocates for education, health care and social services.
A more thorough discussion of all these factors can inform the discussion regarding K-12 funding for public education. To date we haven’t had that discussion. The current discussion is propelled by special interest groups that produce a never-ending wail for more funding. Poll results say it’s time to have a fact-based discussion about education funding and challenge current assertions. Policymakers in North Carolina will be thankful – and so will taxpayers.