The Intersection

Making Sense of NC School Funding: Introduction to the Making Sense of NC School Funding series

February 18, 2020

As a former educator, principal, school board member, and Secretary of Education I have experienced the complexity of funding our schools from a variety of perspectives. At the school level, educators and principals are all too aware of how financial resources, or a lack thereof, impact their students. District leaders, including superintendents, county commissioners, and local boards of education collaborate to make difficult trade-offs to balance personnel and capital costs. And state education leaders work with legislators in the face of budget constraints to ensure that the state budget includes adequate funding for all districts in the state.

Many states have struggled to identify a funding formula that equitably meets student needs and enables low-wealth districts to compete financially with their more affluent peers. Low-wealth districts often struggle to meet basic adequacy requirements for their students and research has shown that school finance reforms that give additional dollars to low-income districts can lead to improved student outcomes. In some cases, the achievement gap between high- and low-income districts has been closed by about one-fifth.

As is true in many states across the country, The Hunt Institute’s home state of North Carolina has a complex system through which funds are allocated to public schools. Local contributions to a local education agency (LEA) for capital costs and support staff play a critical role in rounding out state and federal dollars, but variations in local tax bases mean that LEAs receive highly variable funding based on the wealth of the communities they serve. This provides an opportunity for states to provide additional funds to close these funding gaps. For example, in North Carolina, supplemental state dollars are distributed via allotments to LEAs who meet requirements based on their capacity to raise adequate funds.

The struggle to ensure that adequate funding for public education is provided in North Carolina was elevated to the courts in 1994 when plaintiffs in five rural, low-wealth North Carolina counties filed a lawsuit, Leandro v. State, arguing that the state’s K-12 funding model meant that students in lower-wealth districts were being denied their constitutional right to an adequate education. With ongoing developments continuing in this case, our team has invited national and local partners to share their expertise on school funding.

The Hunt Institute is pleased to kick off the Making Sense of NC School Funding blog series. Over the next five weeks, our team will work to break down the most prevalent models through which schools are funded across the country, share a history and explanation of North Carolina’s system of school funding, hear from superintendents about how funding impacts their districts, and look ahead to what the future of school funding may be for North Carolina. We hope you will follow along throughout this series.


Javaid Siddiqi, Ph.D.,
President & CEO, The Hunt Institute

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