by Dr. Robert Luebke
Senior Fellow, Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
That nod to the famous line from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist may be what some Wake County commissioners are thinking after learning that Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) Superintendent Cathy Moore is asking Wake County Commissioners for approximately $600 million for local schools to help fund her proposed $2.1 billion dollar operating budget for 2022-23. That’s a hefty $56 million over last year, or about a ten percent increase in funding.
Before County Commissioners begin deliberating the request, they may want to consider the following:
Employee Raises. Most of the $56 million increase in local funding will be going toward employee raises. Support staff will have pay boosted to $16/hour and teachers will get a 2.5 percent increase in local salary supplement. Wake County has already used $35 million in temporary federal covid funds to hire counselors and social workers and to help address the needs of the pandemic. Chief Business Officer for WCPSS, David Neter said the district will keep the employees and will be forced to come up with the funds when federal funds are depleted.
Federal Covid Money. About $253.8 million of the $431.9 million Wake County Public Schools received in federal covid funds remains unspent, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. WCPSS has the next two years to spend these “emergency” funds.
Funding Increases. In 2019, Wake County Commissioners appropriated $470 million to WCPSS. If the WCPSS 2022-23 budget proposal is approved, that number would increase to $600 million, an increase of 28 percent. The WCPSS operating budget also increased 28 percent over the same time period.
Per Pupil Support. Over the past five years local per pupil support has increased from $3,120 in 2018-19 to $3,905 in 2022-23. Both figures use current dollars. Likewise, if Superintendent Moore’s budget is approved, total per pupil support will increase from $9,888 to $12,808, an increase of 29 percent.
Enrollment. The request for a ten percent increase in county support is made at a time when enrollment in WCPSS has declined 2 percent over the past five years, while enrollment in Wake County charter, private and home schools over the same time period, has increased by 35%, 10% and 36% respectively.
Staff. While overall WCPSS enrollment has declined in the past five years, the number of full-time WCPSS staff, has increased from 18,708 to 19,627, an increase of 5 percent.
Capital Costs. Although we’ve been concerned with the operating budget, capital costs cannot be forgotten from this equation. Wake County schools still need $2.5 billion for facilities by 2028. Since capital costs are only funded through next year, most think a bond will be on the ballot this fall. Wake County voters approved an $810 million bond in 2013 and $548 million bond in 2018. WCPSS opened four schools at a time when enrollment dipped 3,000 students during the pandemic.
Academic Outcomes. While funding has increased, there has not been a commensurate increase in academic outcomes. A recent DPI report outlined how Learning Loss has impacted all students and populations. Here in Wake County 62 percent of WCPSS students were proficient in all subjects according to 2021 EOC data. That’s up from 61 percent in the Fall of 2018. Meanwhile Math I proficiency rates experienced a decline, dropping from 47 percent of students in 2018 to 40 percent of students in 2021.
Questions Commissioners might wish to ask:
Education is not free. WCPSS’s multi-billion-dollar budget makes that abundantly clear. Are Wake County Schools spending dollars wisely? That’s a question all commissioners should have answered before considering any budget increase.