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Now that the N.C. General Assembly and governor have approved state budget adjustments for the coming year, it is official.  Between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 fiscal years, nominal state appropriations for the K-12 education budget grew by more than $1 billion.

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You may have missed the media hoopla (ha!), but between FY 2010-11 and FY 2014-15, state appropriations for the K-12 education budget grew by more than $1 billion in nominal dollars.

Let’s take a look back.  The 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal years were tough ones for the Democratic majority in the N.C. General Assembly.  Sharply declining revenues from the Great Recession prompted Democrats to cut over $345 million in state K-12 education funds from the 2009-10 fiscal year budget and slash another $370 million in state funds from the 2010-11 fiscal year budget (See Facts and Stats below).  In just two years, state education funding had dropped by over $700 million, a staggering 9.4 percent decrease.  

In 2010, North Carolinians handed Republicans a legislative majority for the first time in a century.  The GOP inherited a public school budget that had dropped to its lowest level in five years.  All the while, student enrollment continued to climb statewide, although the legislature approved a bipartisan policy change in 2009 that supplied a brief reprieve.

To complicate matters, local and federal funding levels fluctuated throughout the recession and recovery.  State tax dollars provide only a portion of funding for our public schools.  Approximately two-thirds of the total K-12 education budget comes from annual appropriations by the N.C. General Assembly.  The other third of the budget is a combination of local and federal funds.   Because the focus here is state funding for public schools and the legislature does not control local and federal funding, I will not focus on those issues. These funding sources are, however, important. I have addressed the building blocks of the public school budget elsewhere.

Despite these challenges, Republican legislators have increased the K-12 education budget in each fiscal year that they have been in the majority.  This year, North Carolina’s enacted elementary and secondary education budget crossed the $8 billion mark and the cumulative, nominal increase surpassed $1 billion over the last four years.

As I have written before, the question of whether the increase kept pace with inflation and student enrollment growth is a legitimate one.  We’ll have a much better sense of how the state fared, on an adjusted per pupil basis, after the N.C. Department of Public Instruction publishes the final enrollment (average daily membership or ADM) and expenditure figures for the 2013-14 school year.  Comparable 2014-15 figures are over a year away.

As usual, I doubt that the budget boost will do much to raise student achievement.  The assumption that North Carolina (or any state) can purchase educational excellence may be gospel truth to those on the Left, but additional spending seldom produces any sustained achievement gains in the real world of public schooling.

Facts and Stats

Various state agencies will update this year’s budget data throughout the year.  At this point, however, one must compare budgets "enacted" by the legislature, which provide the best available apples-to-apples comparison of state budget figures.  In the chart below, the blue colored years indicate Democratic control of the N.C. General Assembly.  Republican years have been shaded red.

Enacted NC State Budgets for K-12 Education, 2005-2014

Sources: N.C. General Assembly Fiscal Research Division and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction

Acronym of the Week

ADM — Average Daily Membership

Quote of the Week

"Moreover, if you look at the actual budget numbers [in the North Carolina state budget], in raw dollars the money spent on K-12 education went up each year…"

– Glenn Kessler, "Emily’s List misfires with attack ad on education funding cuts," Washington Post, June 18

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