by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops recently published a research brief centering on the recent WestEd report delivered to Superior Court Judge David Lee this week. Though the contents of the report is unknown, the report’s purpose is to advise Judge Lee on how to proceed with overseeing the state’s compliance with the 1997 N.C. Supreme Court opinion in Leandro v. State of North Carolina. The court held that, while school districts and counties may not have a constitutional right to equal funding, all children in North Carolina have a fundamental state constitutional right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”
In his commentary, Dr. Stoops speculates:
Presumably, the WestEd report will recommend that the state meet minimum per-student spending levels. As we have seen from other states, a common feature of so-called “costing-out” or “adequacy” reports is that the authors tend to focus on financial resources, despite the inconsistent relationship between spending and academic outcomes.
Stoops writes that such reports ought to be taken with a grain of salt, as:
[T]hese studies fail to account for inefficiencies in the way that districts spend existing dollars. Perhaps the problem is not how much the school spends but how they spend it, and an increase in revenue would simply direct more dollars to a system incapable of using resources productively.
Moreover, the authors of these studies themselves note that their reports are not to be taken as gospel, Stoops writes:
WestEd and other consulting firms generally are careful to caution readers that there is no guarantee that prescribed funding increases will lead to desired outcomes, and I suspect that WestEd’s report for North Carolina urges readers to temper their expectations.
At the end of the day, Stoops writes:
If the courts ultimately decide that the state must meet funding targets, North Carolinians should not expect to see dramatic increases in student achievement. The effects on student outcomes among states that have increased public school spending to comply with court orders are mixed.
…North Carolina families who choose to keep their children in public schools may find the promise of a “sound basic education” to be just as elusive despite the increased investment.