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Today, the U.S. Department of Education published their annual revenues and expenditures report.  The report contains a wealth of data, including historical trends in inflation-adjusted education spending from 1996 to 2011.

Despite claims that the state was a progressive leader in the South, a state-by-state analysis of inflation-adjusted spending data suggests that there was no "golden age" of education spending in North Carolina.  Since 1996, per-pupil expenditures never ranked higher than 36th in the nation and dropped as low as 47th.  Overall, the state ranked 40th in the percentage growth of education spending between 1996 and 2011.

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As state legislators continue to work toward a budget agreement, there will be a lot of talk about the amount of money that the state spends on public schools. 

The Republican leadership of the General Assembly contends that unanticipated expenditures, such as the Medicaid shortfall, make it impossible to increase education spending without a sizable tax increase.  A tax increase ain’t happening.  Fortunately, tax reform is.

Lefties argue that we need to spend more to educate God’s children.  According to their friends at the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 48th in its estimated per-pupil expenditures for the 2012-13 school year.  Apparently, public schools were treated $plendidly under the rule of those representing North Carolina’s tradition of progressive governance.

Or were they?

According to U.S. Department of Education statistics published today, North Carolina’s adjusted per-pupil expenditure increased from $6,753 in 1996 to $8,267 in 2011 (See Facts and Stats below).  That 22 percent increase ranked 40th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.  It was one of the lowest percentage increases in the Southeast during a period of Democratic control of the legislature and governor’s office.

The year-to-year rank ranged from a high of 36th in 2000 and 2001 to a low of 47th in the nation in 2008. By the time Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011, adjusted per-pupil expenditures ranked 46th, the second lowest in the Southeast.  Unfortunately, the report does not contain data for fiscal years 2012 or 2013.

Although there are reasons to doubt the National Education Association estimates (and state-by-state rankings generally), the NEA’s recent ranking of 48th is consistent with historical trends. Republicans did not put the state there.  We were there already.

Facts and Stats

Inflation-adjusted current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education: Fiscal years 1996-2011


North Carolina

United States

FY 1996



FY 1997



FY 1998



FY 1999



FY 2000



FY 2001



FY 2002



FY 2003



FY 2004



FY 2005



FY 2006



FY 2007



FY 2008



FY 2009



FY 2010



FY 2011



Source: Cornman, S.Q. Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2010-11 (Fiscal Year 2011) (NCES 2013-342), U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2013.

Education Acronym of the Week

NCES — National Center for Education Statistics

Quote of the Week

"North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build."

— N.Y. Times editorial, July 9, 2013

Click here for the Education Update archive.