There will be no quick solution for school districts grappling to address new class size requirements. You may remember that in mid-February the North Carolina House passed legislation (HB 13) in response to concerns of school administrators who feared the new changes would eliminate some budget leeway and force schools to hire many new teaches but also drop art and physical education classes. The North Carolina Senate received the bill shortly thereafter but seems to be in no hurry to take action. Unlike the House, a number of senators are skeptical of school district claims that the law will put districts in a financial bind. In a recent News and Observer article, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Brown, said school districts have been getting funding to reduce class size for years. Brown said, “it’s obvious to us that money has been spent on something other than class size reduction.”
In hopes of finding out how the money was spent; a survey was sent out by the North Carolina Association of School Administrators to all 115 LEAs. The Senate has said it won’t act until the survey is complete.
The discrepancy highlights a larger point: no one knows how school districts spend their money. Yes, you can obtain a few general figures. But even then, the figures don’t include all figures. For example, capital costs are usually not included in general operating budgets. Anyone who has ever tried to figure out how much schools spend or how much is spent on individual courses or on extracurricular programs knows what I mean. There is a conspicuous lack of information on school spending at the district and school level.
More transparency is needed on how school districts spend money. One state that is doing a good job of tracking school spending is Texas. Local districts are required to post all checks over a certain amount. Financial figures for two school districts are provided here and here. Should these requirements apply to North Carolina schools, it would represent a significant improvement.
These changes will give parents and policymakers accurate information about school spending. More importantly, it will make disagreements over school district spending a thing of the past.
Transparency has benefits.