In the past, the US Government has had a very limited role in public education. In fact, the US constitution does not speak to the issue of public education. A child’s guarantee to education is codified in North Carolina’s state constitution. While the federal government only contributes about 11% of funding for NC public schools, in recent years both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have wielded significant influence over public education in our state and across the nation.
The North Carolina state constitution guarantees every child a sound basic education regardless of where that child lives or what his or her circumstances are. At present the state provides about 66% of the total funding for K-12 education. That funding has dropped over recent years and this year is $327 per student less than it was in 2008. The money is basically for personnel and operations with very little money for buildings.
County Commissioners are responsible for funding a local share. Across the state, on average, local counties are funding 23% of the K-12 school budget. In wealthy areas, some counties have been electing to increase local funding to make up for the severe state cuts but of course, poor counties don’t have that choice.
Local school boards do not have taxing authority and must develop a budget each year and ask for an appropriation from the county commissioners. The budget can include both operational and capital costs. Once commissioners set the county budget, the school board must make adjustments. The school board also hires the superintendent, sets discipline policies, decides on local salary supplements, governs student assignment, and plans for future schools. The state budget and legislation can constrain the choices available to local school boards, particularly if there is little local money.