Two pieces of news about state education spending are worth highlighting today—one about intrastate spending gaps, and another about a state’s attempt to institute a new spending formula.
To start, let’s turn to North Carolina, which over the past year has become something of a K-12 battleground state attracting national media attention on education policy. Every year since 2004, the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a public schools advocacy group, has put out a “Local School Finance Study” analyzing the real estate wealth available to North Carolina districts, as well as gaps in that wealth between counties and spending disparities between local jurisdictions.
Comparing the 2004 report with the report the Public School Forum issued for 2013, two things stand out. First, look at the charts for both years comparing the amount of taxable real estate wealth per child in the highest-wealth counties to the available real estate wealth per child in the lowest-wealth counties. From 2004 to 2013, real estate wealth per child in the wealthiest counties has doubled, from roughly $1 million to $2 million (way ahead of the rate of inflation), while the wealth in the poorest counties increased only 37 percent.
Second, the per-student spending gap between the wealthiest and poorest counties has also grown ahead of the rate of inflation. In 2004, that gap was $1,670 per child between the wealthiest and poorest counties. In 2013, that gap had grown to $2,280. If the 2004 figure had grown at the rate of inflation, it would be $2,050, as the handy (albeit imperfect) Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “inflation calculator” tells us. So the growth didn’t outstrip inflation by a huge amount, but then again, in theory, the gap could have shrunk.
“With a class size of 26 students, the state’s top 10 counties spend on average $74,828 per classroom, while the bottom 10 counties muster only $15,548 - a difference of
$59,280 per classroom,” the report states.
Now let’s turn to Pennyslvania, one of the more turbulent states when it comes to K-12 finance. The state House of Representatives has approved a bill that would establish a commission tasked with creating a new school funding formula in the state. House Bill 1738, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is part of a debate in the state over whether the state actually has a school funding formula to begin with.
As the bill’s fiscal note explains, the commission wouldn’t be able to get off the hook with a few vague recommendations. It “must” come up with a new formula for consideration. (The full text of the bill is below.)
As reporter Megan Harris explains, the state passed such a formula in 2008, right as the recession hit, and since then has passed “hold harmless” provisions that has prevented the formula’s mathematical implications from actually impacting the state’s K-12 spending. The Education Law Center, a K-12 funding advocacy group which Harris mentions, says Pennsylvania is one of only three states without a funding formula, and that “high-poverty public schools in Pennsylvania spend an annual average of $3,000 less per student compared to wealthy schools, adding up to a funding gap of $75,000 in a classroom of 25 students.”
But a spokesman for the House GOP, Michael Stoll, told Harris that’s inaccurate, and that in fact legislators simply “don’t like” the formula they have to work with now. With GOP Gov. Tom Corbett saying he wanted to protect basic school funding this year, when he’s up for reelection, how favorably will he look on the prospect of a new formula?
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.