There is a growing sentiment that North Carolina’s system for building and funding schools is broken. I’ve written about these problems here. Fast growing counties complain it takes too long to build schools. Rural counties say they lack the tax base to adequately fund school buildings and renovations. Moreover, demographic changes are moving school districts in two different directions.
In 2015-16 North Carolina spent about $540 million on school construction. About 97 percent of those dollars ($525 million) were local dollars.
How does North Carolina address these needs? Earlier this year bills were introduced in the State House and Senate to put a $1.9 billion dollars school bond referendum on the ballot. Funding was targeted on fast growing and economically disadvantaged districts. Neither bill however made it out of committee.
Session Law 2016 -94 (the budget bill) attempts to address some of these concerns. It called for the Program Evaluation Division to contract with an independent management consulting group to conduct a study of the districts with the greatest capital needs relative to their ability to raise money to meet those needs.
It’s a good start, but the discussion needs to continue. No doubt a new commission on school funding could provide some focus, but the legislature has been slow in putting those together. What’s clear is that one formula doesn’t seem to work when you have counties moving in opposite directions. Until we get new formulas, flexibility may be the best thing the state can offer.
How will North Carolina pay for schools? It’s a question we need to revisit.