John Locke Update / Research Newsletter

The oldest trick in the (text)book

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Welcome

This week, the subject of textbook funding has been brought to the fore by an article, and subsequent editorial, published in the News & Observer.  I’ll address the educational aspects of the issue in a newsletter early next year (hopefully).  For now, I’ll take a brief look at the politics of the debate.

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CommenTerry

First, let’s examine the facts about textbooks and instructional materials in North Carolina.

  • Nearly $30 million was set aside in the 2013-15 budget for each of the next two years for digital learning and technology, $11.9 million in lottery funds and $18 million in Civil Fines and Forfeiture funds.
  • Making good on their promise to expand local control, legislators have given school districts the ability to use other sources of funds for textbook purchases.  For example, they can tap their share of the $43 million for classroom supplies or, for eligible districts, part of the $200 million for low wealth funding.
  • One serious, but seldom discussed, problem is that textbooks have become extremely expensive (with no improvement in quality, in my opinion). According to the NC Department of Public Instruction, the average costs of textbooks are as follows:

Subject

Elementary School

Middle School

High School

Math

$44.14

$55.63

$66.26

Reading

$35.42

$84.55

$86.13

Social Studies

$39.38

$56.00

$68.30

There is not much that our state can do to upend the public school textbook racket.  Open source instructional materials may be one long-term remedy.  In the short-term, we should continue to champion entrepreneurship and competition in the textbook market.

  • Finally, it’s not just limited to textbooks; expenditures for supplies and materials generally have been on the rise.  The NC Department of Public Instruction reports that, during the 2010-11 school year, school districts spent a total of $951.6 million (or $679 per student) on supplies and materials.  During the 2012-13 school year, districts spent $1.05 billion (or $739 per student) on those expenses.

Perhaps the current level of state textbook funding alone is insufficient to cover the cost of either traditional or digital textbooks.  But school districts that want to make an investment in textbooks can do so by earmarking revenue from other state, local, and federal funding sources.  In other words, the state textbook allotment is not the sole source of textbook funding in North Carolina.  You would not know that by reading and watching stories produced by the mainstream media in this state.  Apparently, facts that fall outside of their anti-Republican narrative are irrelevant to them.

As revenues improve, should Republicans resume textbook funding at pre-recession levels?  That will depend on a number of factors, some of which are out of their control.  I suspect that legislators will initiate several discussions about textbooks during the upcoming legislative session.

Facts and Stats

School year

State textbook funding per student

2012-13

$14.26

2011-12

$14.82

2010-11

$1.69

2009-10

$40.75

2008-09

$67.15

Source: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Highlights of the NC Public School Budget, 2009-2013

Education Acronym of the Week

MMTB — multimedia textbook

Quote of the Week

"Not another state lawmaker should say a thing about public schools until he first says what he is going to do about paying for an adequate supply of textbooks. Restoring funding is easily within reach. Tax revenues boosted by the [Republican!] recovery, such as it is, are already running ahead of budget. Put the extra funds into books and equipment that will provide students with textbooks to take home and help schools prepare for the eventual conversion to digital."

NC should reverse cuts in textbook funding, News & Observer, December 18, 2013. 

Click here for the Education Update archive.

As Vice President for Research, Terry oversees the research team’s writing and analysis across the spectrum of public policy issues. He specializes in pre-K-12 education. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the program assistant for the Child Welfare… ...

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