Public Education in North Carolina:
Challenges and Opportunities
Public education is an issue that affects ALL North Carolinians.
More of North Carolina’s tax revenue goes to the public school system than any other state buget item.
Schools are community hubs for employment, family services, extracurricular activities, and social connectivity.
Inequity and inadequate funding impede education delivery.
Differences in LOCAL FUNDING contribute to inequity.
In North Carolina, inequity among districts means that some schools have state-of-the-art technology while others are in disrepair.
Inequity is in part driven by the state’s funding rules, which require local (county) governments to pay for school operations and buildings.
As a results, areas with a larger tax base can more easily afford to fund their schools, while areas with a smaller tax base may struggle to even provide the bare minimum
Reduced STATE FUNDING results in district shortages.
The state’s contribution to public education is at the whim of the legislature.
If state funding falls short of student need, districts have no choice but to make cuts to staff, programs, and facilities.
In addition, the pool of tax dollars available for public education is reduced by the Opportunity Scholarship Program ( or “school voucher” program), which gives families money for private school tuition.
$1.3 MILLION TAX DOLLARS went to children attending private schools in 2022-23.
School choice and privatization affect resource distribution and school quality.
Percentage of North Carolina students attending home school, charter schools, or traditional & magnet public schools. Data from the 2021-22 school year.
North Carolina tax payers support different types of schools:
- Traditional schools are run by local school boards and are regulated by the state.
- Magnet schools are governed by the school district, but enrollment is by choice, rather than being based on where a student lives.
- Charter schools are funded by tax revenue, but are independently operated with virtually no oversight for curriculum, staffing, or spending. Charter schools are allowed to earn a profit and many are managed by corporations.
Magnet schools were launched decades ago to draw students into different schools to reduce racial segregation.
Charter schools were first envisioned as small-scale incubators for innovative teaching practices. Now, curriculae and practices vary widely.
Differences among North Carolina schools supported by tax dollars.
Type of school
Funded by tax revenue
Regulation and full accountability
Privatization reality: NO oversight for operations or spending.
As more charter schools are opened, tax payers have less say in program quality, fair access, and what’s being taught in classrooms paid for by public dollars.
Further privatization of the public school system is likely as low-performing schools are converted to corporate charter schools under the “Innovative School District” plan.
School choice reality: exclusion by race and family income.
“School choice” is touted as a way for families to match students with the learning environment that suits them best. However, for many districts, the unintended consequence of choice has been that schools are becoming increasingly segregated by race.
Some children are unable to attend alternative public schools due to lack of access or transportation, or due to incompatible scheduling; this exclusion further divides children along racial and economic lines, rather than uniting them in the same classroom.
Pastors for North Carolina Children believes that ALL public schools should be well-funded and equally-equipped, thus eliminating the inequity that currently drives school choice and perpetuates division.
Leandro v. State of North Carolina and the fight for education rights
The Leandro v. State court case documented the state’s failure to provide every child with the constitutionally-guaranteed “sound basic education”.
The court ordered a plan to fix our schools by addressing chronic underfunding and unfair resource distribution.
The Leandro Plan maps out key steps toward equity – so all students get their fair share.
The “Leandro Plan” (short for Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan) was developed to show state legislators what’s needed to meet the education standard in every school.
The Leandro Plan:
- Is a carefully-researched set of policies ensuring all districts receive adequate and consistent support.
- Is designed to improve access to early childhood and K-12 educational programs and services, particularly in communities where children are being left behind.
While the Leandro Plan will boost education delivery for all students, the most vulnerable children stand to see the greatest benefit, including:
- Children with disabilities
- Multilingual learners
- Children subject to racial discrimination
- Children in rural districts
- Children from families with lower income
- Children lacking access to birth-to-age 5 early education programs
LEANDRO AT LAST!
The latest NC Supreme Court decision is a BIG victory for education rights.
On November 4, 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered the state to transfer funds for the Leandro Plan.
Public education advocates have long awaited the Leandro Plan as a comprehensive solution that helps schools provide the same level of quality.
Until this decision, the Leandro case had remained unresolved nearly 30 years after it was filed.
It’s possible that school districts begin receiving Leandro Plan funding before the next school year.
TAKE NOTE: Our mission doesn't end with LEANDRO!
The Leandro Plan is an enormous step forward toward equity, but there’s still plenty of work to do.
The Leandro Plan will roll out gradually until 2028, and will require our vigilance to ensure the policies are enacted and the funding flows according to plan.
Further, there are countless student issues not directly addressed by the Leandro Plan, all of which require planning and effort to push forward.
Stay tuned to see what statewide and local advocacy actions we undertake!