by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
North Carolina schools received over $6 billion in funding to remedy the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic on students and schools.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently updated its spreadsheet of covid expenditures and allotments. As of June 30, 2022, Wake County Public Schools had spent $244.5 million of $441 million allotted for covid relief. About 45 percent of the allotment — $196.4 million dollars — remains unspent.
How has WCPSS spent $244.5 million?
Nearly 80 percent of covid funds received by WCPSS have been spent on either salary or benefits.
According to NC DPI documents, $167 million of the $244 million, was used for salaries. The largest chunk of that — $95.5 million – was spent on bonus pay. In addition, $7.8 million was spent on Instructional Support II, which I believe are new staff. Another $20.5 million was spent on “Teachers”. Yes, I agree, the title is vague. It’s unclear if the funds are for new or existing teachers?
It does make a difference. If the spending for Instructional Support II and Teachers constitute new staff, it is unclear how these positions will be funded after September 2024 when the federal funding runs out.
One last observation, salaries and benefits constitute a very high percentage of WCPSS covid expenditures. I blogged on this topic a few months ago. The pattern however, continues.
While the categories of “salaries” and “benefits” account for 79 percent of WCPSS covid expenditures, other large school districts in North Carolina are spending less on these categories and some substantially less.
For example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Schools spends 69.9 percent of covid relief funds on salaries and benefits. The same combined figures for Cumberland County Schools and Winston Salem Forsythe County Schools are 64.7 percent and 63.3 percent, respectively. Moreover, Guilford County Schools has the lowest combined percentage of “salary” and “benefits” expenditures of any large school district, at 49.9 percent. The significant differences in spending among the larger districts are hard to miss certainly are a topic for further investigation.
Just a reminder that the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 requires local school districts to spend, a minimum of 20 percent of their funds on addressing learning loss. The categories on the expenditure list, make it difficult to determine if those requirements are being met.
It can be said that a strong consensus is emerging that tutoring is the best way to remedy learning loss.
However, tutoring doesn’t seem to be a significant part of the plan WCPSS put together to say how they would spend covid funds. Yes, there is lip service to the concept. Like most plans however, the WCPSS covid spending plan consists of a lot of buzz words and jargon.
How much is WCPSS spending on tutoring?
One crude way to answer the question is to sum expenditures for “Tutor (Within the Instructional Day)” and “Tutorial Pay” totals $347,286. That amounts to a mere .14 percent of WCPSS covid spending.
Throwing tons of money at a problem is one thing. Making sure it gets to where it’s needed is the question that must be answered before the bills are passed and the checks sent.