Updated 5:37 a.m. today

Classroom generic
Classroom generic

EDITOR’S NOTE: Keith Poston is President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on improving educational outcomes for all North Carolina children.

There is a chronic, growing and worsening gap in public school funding between the highest and lowest-wealth counties in North Carolina, according to the 2018 Local School Finance Study that will be released today by the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

While policy decisions at the state level have helped by providing additional funds for the state’s smallest and lowest-wealth counties, investments in schools still vary dramatically by zip code – and it’s getting worse.

The Numbers
The 10 highest spending counties spent on average $3,103 per student compared to $739 by the 10 lowest spending counties, a gap of $2,364 per student. The spending gap between the top-10 spending and bottom-ten spending counties has grown from $1,094 in 1997 to the current gap of $2,364 per student. This gap has widened every year since 2011 and 18 of the past 20 years.

In 2015-2016, the 10 highest-spending counties spent four times more per child than the ten lowest-spending counties. Orange County, at the top of the list, spends more than 12 times more per student than Swain County at the bottom. The bottom seven counties combined spend $290 less than Orange County spends on its own. Sixty of NC’s 100 counties are below the state average of $1,596 per student in local support.

These disparities have real consequences in classrooms. Local salary supplements for educators are generally larger in high-wealth districts. That better positions them to attract and retain top talent. In low-wealth districts with fewer resources, class offerings often lack the diversity of those found in wealthier ones. Even basic classroom supplies — paper, pencils and textbooks — are difficult to come by in low-wealth districts. Their wealthier counterparts are able to tap deeper wallets as they cope with decreased state-level investments.

The bottom line: Our poorest counties continue to fall further behind in terms of resources available to their local schools. Young people born into one of the state’s economically thriving counties, typically the more urban centers, have levels of investment in their education not shared elsewhere in the state, especially the most rural counties.

Why is there a funding gap?
It all comes down to property values. North Carolina’s wealthiest counties are able to invest much more in their local schools because they have a much higher property value base to generate revenue. The…