Every now and then comments are published that are so incorrect and misleading that we must respond directly. The claim below has been shared in various forms by a number of voucher supporters, including legislative leaders. The specific language is taken from a Carolina Partnership for Reform blog post.
CLAIM: “Opportunity Scholarships don’t ‘drain money from public schools’ unless public schools exist to educate phantom students. How much funding a public school receives to educate a child has nothing to do with how many students attend the school. Last year, the authorized K-12 budget was $8,434 per student, the highest level in state history. Opportunity Scholarships had zero impact on that per-pupil spending. Those who claim Opportunity Scholarships drain funds from public schools want you to believe that every school deserves the same amount of state funds regardless of how many students go there.”
FACTS: Every student who leaves public school drains money from that public school. Public school funding is directly tied to the number of students attending the school and the demographic characteristics of the students (e.g. students with disabilities, poverty level). As students use vouchers to go to private schools, public schools lose funds. But fixed costs don’t change. For example, a class of 25 students that loses 2 students via vouchers still has the same teacher and the school has the same facility expenses, but less money to pay for them.
Last year did see historically high per-pupil funding, but the increase was driven by federal investment (i.e. American Rescue Plan Act) and not state-level investment. In fact, the percentage of state funds going toward per-pupil expenditures in 2022 (60.2%) was the lowest of any year since 1998.
When adjusted for inflation, NC’s per-pupil expenditures have barely budged over the past two decades. Numerous national reports have consistently ranked NC as one of the lowest in per-pupil expenditures and an Ed Law Center report ranked NC dead last in funding effort–behind every other state and DC.