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For the past year, the media, state education officials, and public school advocacy groups have claimed that Republicans made "devastating" cuts to public education.  Last week, the NC Department of Public Instruction released data that shows otherwise.  Per-pupil expenditures were up, and class sizes were mostly unchanged.  In this week’s CommenTerry, I explore the data, i.e., relentlessly throw statistics at the reader.

Bulletin Board

  • Please join the Civitas Institute on November 1 from 11:45 AM to 1:00 PM at Raleigh’s Doubletree Brownstone Hotel for their monthly poll presentation.  The guest speaker this month will be Rob Christensen from the News & Observer.  Cost is $10 per person or $15 at the door.  Registration is required.

  • Come to a Headliner Luncheon at noon on Thursday, November 15, 2012 at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown.  Our special guest will be Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, who will offer a post election analysis.  Tickets are $30.00 and may be purchased online.
  • The North Carolina History Project would like educators and homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school courses in North Carolina history.  Please provide links to N.C. History Project encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source material, if possible.  Go to the N.C. History Project website for further information.
  • Some call JLF’s research newsletter archive the "Frankenarchive."


Last week, the NC Department of Public Instruction released the 2011-2012 School Report Cards.  The report cards allow us to compare year-to-year changes in a number of areas, including performance, class size, personnel, and the like.  In addition, the state published financial statistics for the 2011-12 school year.

The 2011-12 school year was the first year that North Carolina public schools operated under a budget passed by the Republican legislative majority elected in 2010.  Doomsday prophets — the media, state education officials, and public school advocacy groups — proclaimed that 2011-12 would produce calamities that would rival the Ten Plagues of Egypt.  In the end, their predictions were all hype and no literal pestilence.

Indeed, class sizes increased in one grade only.  The average first-grade classroom added an additional student in 2012 to reach 20 students.  Kindergarten and second-grade classrooms each had one fewer student, on average, compared to the year prior.  In both cases, average class size dropped from 20 students to 19 students.  Average class sizes in grades 3 through 8, as well as high school English, math, and science courses, did not change.

The School Report Cards indicate that the number of classroom teachers dropped by 230 last year, an average of two teachers per school district.  North Carolina employed 99,290 teachers in 2010.  A year later, the number of classroom teachers fell to 99,060.  Interestingly, Democrats have changed their tune and now claim that hundreds, not thousands, of teachers were "fired" due to state budget cuts.  According to an article recently published in the News & Observer, "Democratic candidates say Republicans led the state down an extreme ideological path that produced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, opened the state to offshore drilling and natural gas fracking, and cut hundreds of classroom teachers." (Emphasis added)  It is a subtle change but one worth noting.

Despite Democrats’ contentions that the state budget is to blame, an expected drop in federal dollars appears to be the reason why there were fewer teachers in 2012.  During the 2011-12 school year, the state increased funding by $322 million.  At the same time, federal funding decreased by $234.5 million.  Counties increased the local appropriation by $7.4 million.  Overall, total spending increased by $95 million.

In per-pupil terms, state funding increased by around $200 per student, while federal funding fell by nearly $173 per student.  Despite a small increase in the local appropriation, per-pupil funding dropped by $5 due to statewide enrollment growth.  Per-pupil spending increased by a modest $22 between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.

Approximately two-thirds of North Carolina’s public school funding comes from the state.  Last year, only 13 of the state’s 115 school districts had lower state per-pupil spending than the year before.  At -$267 per student, Washington County Schools had the largest drop in state spending.  On the other hand, Hertford County Schools boasted the largest year-to-year increase, a $517 per student infusion of state dollars.  Overall, 22 school districts used state funds to add over $300 per student during the 2011-12 school year.  Another 33 districts spent between $200 and $300 per student more than during the 2010-11 school year.

The fact that Republicans increased education spending and maintained class sizes may be valuable from a political standpoint.  The figures are useful for those who participate in the back-and-forth over discussions of education policy.  But those inputs do not mean much in terms of the quality of education in North Carolina.

Random Thought

aut disce aut discede

Facts and Stats

Per-pupil expenditures (PPE) by source, 2003-2012


State PPE

Federal PPE

Local PPE

Total PPE














































Total expenditures by source, 2003-2012



















































Source:  NC Department of Public Instruction, "NC Statistical Profile: [Online]"


I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].

Education Acronyms of the Week

PPE — per-pupil expenditure

Quote of the Week

"The NC School Report Cards website helps us see the results of our efforts and highlights areas where we need more focus. I encourage the public school community to review the School Report Cards as a basis for better discussions and decision-making at the school and district levels."

— Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, NC Department of Public Instruction press release, October 25, 2012

Click here for the Education Update archive.