A legislative task force is in a year-long process to consider overhauling how public schools are funded. Legislators heard from school administrators on Wednesday about their thoughts on the current funding model.
Three superintendents and three school finance officers shared with the committee their likes and dislikes of the existing funding system. They represented both small and large districts, and those that are growing or shrinking in population. The administrators worked together with the North Carolina Association of School Administrators to prepare their presentations.
One of the main threads of the discussion was a call for increased flexibility in spending. Senator Jerry Tillman highlighted that after the second speaker concluded:
"Did you all understand his number one priority? Flex-ability. Two out of two, folks," Tillman stressed.
Among an on-going theme of flexibility, the administrators voiced a number of pros and cons about the current school funding model.
Position allotments - Administrators like that schools receive position allotments to fund a particular number of teachers, administrators and instructional support staff regardless of their experience and salary requirements.
“As a district that allows us to focus on the quality of the teacher, and not the experience of the teacher,” said Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools Tim Markley. “I worked as a superintendent in New Hampshire where we had a flat budget every year, and in years that were tight, we would have to buy out older teachers and hire younger teachers to replace them.”
District based allotments - The current system provides district-based allotments for low wealth counties and small school systems. Those allotments take into account a district’s characteristics and challenges of raising local supplemental funding.
Student based allotments - Schools receive allotments for students based on their specific needs, including for children who are at-risk, economically disadvantaged, gifted or learning English.
Flexibility in teacher position allotments - The North Carolina School Boards Association recommended giving more flexibility in how schools can use allotted teacher positions. Reduced flexibility makes it more difficult for schools to hire specialty teachers.
Caps on student based allotments - Many districts exceed the cap on allotments for students with special needs or with limited English proficiency. The funding allotment for exceptional children doesn’t differentiate funding based on disability. Schools would like to see flexibility in allotments for children who have limited English proficiency or are academically gifted restored to previous levels.
Hard-to-predict revisions - School finance officers receive dozens of revisions in allotments throughout the school year based on changes in their student population or state appropriations. They say this makes planning and spending difficult.
Allotment for low wealth districts needs adjustments - The North Carolina School Board Association says this allotment is overly complex and includes components that penalize a school based on decisions made by county commissioners about property tax.
Charter school funding linked to traditional school funding - A few administrators and the North Carolina School Boards Association called for charter schools to receive direct funding. Currently, charter schools get state funding based on the per-pupil-spending that each of their students would have received at the traditional public school they’d otherwise attend. However, the traditional schools’ spending includes allotments for services the charter school doesn’t necessarily provide. Public school advocates said they would like to see charter school funding unlinked from funding for traditional public schools.
In general, the North Carolina School Boards Association and the North Carolina Association of School Administrators asked that any changes to the funding model be phased in carefully to allow time to adjust for unintended consequences. They also asked that legislators ensure that no district receives less funding under a new system.
The legislative task force on education finance reform will make a final report to the legislature in October with recommendations to change school funding.