After nearly a six month wait, Judge David Lee has released the long awaited consultant recommendations for North Carolina public schools. The title of the report says it all; Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina. The document was crafted specifically to ensure all schools comply with the Leandro requirement; to provide an opportunity for students to receive a sound, basic education.
The document was authored by WestEd, education consultants, the Learning Policy Institute and the Friday Institute. It doesn’t lack for scope, detail or length — nearly 300 pages. The authors created a massive –and expensive plan — that impacts just about every aspect of North Carolina public schools, including teachers, principals, early childhood education, school funding and high poverty schools. The plan also calls for the creation of regional and state improvement supports for school improvement and a plan for monitoring state compliance with the Leandro case. Planning and more planning.
So, what do you need to know? The plan includes some laudable ideas. Revamping the state’s funding formulas is long overdue. In addition, changes to make funding follow the student is a plus.
Still, regrettably the bad far outweighs the good in this plan. Yes, funding for charter schools needs to be revamped. Eliminating local funding in favor of all state funding is not a step in the right direction.
There are plans to improve finance and resource allocations, bring qualified teachers to every classroom, improve high-poverty schools and create a state assessment and accountability system and a new plan for monitoring compliance. There is no shortage of ideas, ambition – or cost. To implement the recommendations would require approximately an additional $8 billion in funding over the next eight years. Yes, that’s billion — with a “b”.
It’s important to keep the big picture and not get lost in the details. The plans may be well-intentioned, but let’s remember, there is no guarantee a massive infusion of resources will improve student achievement. Such plans usually disregard some hard facts. Per pupil spending does not guarantee success. Schools and districts with less money often outperform those with more. It only shows that how schools spend money is as important as how much. However, these recommendations are long on inputs and short on how improving how schools can improve how they use resources.
Finding an additional billion in funding for the next eight years is a big lift . Where does the money come from? That’s a good question. As of this writing, I am not aware of any comment from legislative leaders on the report. Their responses will go a long way in gauging how they treat the recommendations and what actions they are likely to take.
I’m not a lawyer, but some questions need to be asked: Does release of the report mean Judge Lee agrees with everything in the report? Is the report the state’s action plan? Or does Judge Lee view the recommendations as only a starting point with more input expected from the legislature and others?
Conservatives have good reason to be wary of judicial orders to boost spending and significantly expand public education. Such actions raise legitimate constitutional questions regarding the separation of powers in the North Carolina State Constitution. Only the legislature has the power to appropriate money; not the governor, nor the courts. To do otherwise is to undermine the very document that secures our rights and our framework for state government. It also disenfranchises the voting public who elect, and defeat legislators based on their stances on public education, the economy and other important issues. Legislators are accountable to voters. .
How will schools be funded in North Carolina will always be an important question. The real question is which branch of government will get to answer that question. The issue has been propelled by a perception that public schools are underfunded. But is it true? A recent Civitas Poll found that almost half of respondents thought North Carolina spends $7,000 or less per student. When informed that additional spending for public schools declined from 73 percent to 57 percent. Only 10 percent of respondents were able to correctly identify the correct range of spending ($9,000-$11,000).
No one denies our public schools need help. Stagnant NAEP and PISA scores show that ambitious and expensive plans like No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Race to the Top and Every Student Succeeds Act, have not produced the desired outcomes. Yes, the public may want additional spending for public schools. But we should also listen to the 73 percent of respondents in a recent Civitas Poll who said that the correct way to bring more spending in the public schools is through elected officials in the legislature or Governor’s office who favor such policies – not through activist judges.
Who will decide questions of school funding in North Carolina? Some are confused. Let’s not forget that we already have the answer.
This post was updated to include a correction