by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Remember these numbers. $442 million and $306.7 million. Those figures represent how much money Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) has received in federal covid relief funds and how much money the district has actually spent.
How is WCPSS spending the money? A quick review shows that most of the money is spent on salaries. According to data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, some of WCPSS’s largest expenditures include $120.4 million for “Bonus Pay”, $18.4 million for “Extended Contracts” and $26.2 million for “Teacher”. All told, about $204.8 million – or 67 percent of covid funds — was spent on salaries.
If you think that percentage is high, you wouldn’t be alone. When you compare the percentage of covid funds that WCPSS spends on salaries with other large districts, WCPSS figures are certainly on the high side. At 67 percent, WCPSS has the highest percentage of covid expenditures dedicated to salaries, Comparable percentages of other large school districts in North Carolina include Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; 56 percent; Forsythe County Schools,; 50 percent, Guilford County Schools; 39 percent and New Hanover County Schools; 37 percent.
WCPSS is spending a lot of covid money on hiring more teachers and boosting teacher pay.
Is this spending helping to address learning loss or aid populations who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic? DPI’s own data on learning loss and recent declines in NAEP scores help to answer that question. Intensive tutoring is widely recognized as the best way to remedy learning loss. Yet WCPSS’s recent efforts in tutoring are modest, are volunteer-based and fall far short of what many believe is needed to remedy wide scale learning loss.
WCPSS has $136 million in unspent covid funds. The district certainly has the funds and is willing to spend covid money on teachers and teacher pay. Why is the district unwilling to make the necessary investments in needed tutoring programs? That’s a question only members of the Wake County School Board can answer.