Editor’s note: This is the second of three columns dedicated to education funding in Moore County
Funding for public schools in North Carolina is quite different from that in other parts of the country.
Moore County residents who relocate from out of state are often astonished to find the school board has no local taxing authority. And many are surprised to learn that only about a quarter of Moore County Schools funding comes from local government and that 60 percent comes from the state.
While the county’s contribution for Moore County Schools may not reflect the large percentages found elsewhere across the country, these dollars are vital to the operation of our school system. Moore County Schools relies on these funds to support three critical areas: operations, capital and digital learning.
The operations, or “current expense,” line item from the county supports staff and salaries not covered by the state. Since Moore County is a state-designated Tier 3 (“wealthy”) county, the school district receives less funding per student from the state. It is currently ranked No. 103 out of 115 districts in state funding.
Fortunately, our county commissioners allocate more local funds than the state average, meaning our total funding per student improves to No. 87. Unfortunately, even with the enhanced local funding, our district still receives less than the state average per student.
Local funds for operations cover a wide range of needs, including additional teachers and staff needed to provide similar services throughout this rural county; supplemental pay to teachers in order to compete with neighboring counties; maintenance funds for small repairs and basic upkeep at each of Moore County’s 23 schools; and payments to charter schools.
For seven years between 2008 and 2015, local operational funding hovered around $25 million annually. Charter school payments during that time started near $500,000.
Last year the district received $29.5 million from the county in current expense, with $1.8 million of that amount passed on to local charter schools.
Capital funding from the county provides funding for “larger” capital projects at schools, such as mechanical and equipment replacement, roof repairs or other infrastructure projects. School districts do not get additional funding from the state for capital projects; this is considered a county responsibility.
Last year’s successful bond referendum supports the consolidation and replacement of five of our oldest schools, but those monies do not address ongoing capital needs at our 18 other schools that have needs of their own. These additional needs will total $72 million over the next 20 years.
Each year, the county provides $750,000 for these projects. The North Carolina Lottery also provides additional capital funding of about $870,000, bringing the total available for capital projects last year from both sources to just over $1.6 million a year.
This funding must cover capital projects for all schools in the district. Capital funds from both the lottery and the county are about half of what they were 10 years ago.
The last piece of funding from the county was added in 2013-14 to pay for the district’s digital learning initiative. Students in grades 6-12 are issued Google Chromebooks for in-class work, home assignments, and standardized state testing.
The county currently allocates $750,000 annually to support digital learning needs. But $1.2 million is needed to include grades 3 through 5. The state has required digital resources for learning for several years but never adequately funded the requirement.
Due to significant state funding decreases during and after the 2008 recession, Moore County Schools had to adjust its budget. The district cut programs and staff to match reduced state support during those years. Second, the district reached into its own savings to cover necessary positions and programs.
Moore County Schools drew $1 to $3 million from that savings, or fund balance, annually to support staffing and operations while waiting for state funding to increase to pre-recession levels. Alas, state funding never rebounded completely and the district’s fund balance dwindled.
The 2018-19 year is the first year since the recession that Moore County Schools is not using its fund balance to accommodate day-to-day expenses. The school board now carries only a minimal fund balance for emergencies.
We achieved this by eliminating programs and positions, deferring needed hires and upgrades, and increasing class sizes in grades 4 through 12. Our proposed budget for 2019-20 remedies some of these issues and will be discussed in the last installment of this series.