June 3, 2020
In Part 5 of our Making Sense of NC School Funding blog series we invited leaders from two North Carolina school districts to share their perspectives on school funding. Read on to learn about school funding from Cabarrus County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Chris Lowder and Chief Finance Officer Kelly Kluttz, and Rowan-Salisbury School System Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody and Chief Finance Officer Carol Herndon.
Rowan-Salisbury School System and neighboring Cabarrus County Schools share a border but have different models of school funding. While Cabarrus County utilizes North Carolina’s standard allocation model, Rowan-Salisbury has funding flexibility under its status as North Carolina’s pilot Renewal School System. As outlined in House Bill 986, this status grants districts charter-like flexibility across accountability, curriculum, personnel, and budget. Specifically, it allows Rowan-Salisbury to receive their state education dollars in a lump sum to be distributed at the district’s discretion, rather than in the traditional allotments.
In order to understand how these two funding models are utilized at the district level, we asked both districts to reflect on their current models of school funding.
1.What about your current funding model works best for your district’s ability to serve your students?
Cabarrus County Schools: Position allotments – this is a type of allotment where the state pays the salary of the teacher without regard to their experience or pay status. This allows principals to hire based on what’s best for students rather than staying within a budget.
Rowan-Salisbury School System: By receiving nearly all of our state dollars in a single allotment, we are better able to support the individual needs of our students and our schools. In our district we have a large number of students who live in poverty, students who are English Language Learners, and students who are identified as being at-risk. The flexibility of spending our state dollars as needed means that we can better serve the unique needs of these students through staffing, curriculum, and programming.
2. What about your current funding model presents the biggest challenge in your ability to serve your students?
Cabarrus County Schools: The lack of flexibility. There are many opportunities where doing what’s best for students is not allowed due to funding restrictions. Examples would include when a teaching position is vacant. Rather than putting a sub in the classroom, we can put an effective teacher in the classroom by buying back the planning period and extending the teacher day. State and federal funding prohibits this.
Rowan-Salisbury School System: The biggest challenge of this new funding model is determining how best to ensure that we are distributing funds based on student needs. We are working with our school leaders to identify which schools may be best-suited to control their own funding streams and have granted funding flexibility to 17 of our 34 schools.
3. What would you change about your current funding model in order to better serve your students?
Cabarrus County Schools: Give more flexibility within the funding sources. For example, in the years of discretionary cuts, our district decided to cut teacher assistants rather than teachers. Our district feels that having more teachers and a lower class size ratio is more important than having teacher assistants in every classroom. With our current allotment process, we can’t use teacher assistant funds to pay for teachers. Having the flexibility to either pay teachers out of that funding source or having the flexibility to move the funds into a different pot that allows teacher pay would be helpful.
Rowan-Salisbury School System: We are currently taking a close look at establishing a weighted student funding formula for the district. This would improve our ability to put students’ needs first by calculating funding based on the needs of each individual student. For example, students with disabilities who are served under an Individualized Education Plan require varying amounts of specialized instruction or therapy services; a weighted student funding formula would allow us to differentiate our funding for each of those students based on the services required.
Many thanks to Cabarrus County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Chris Lowder and Chief Finance Officer Kelly Kluttz, and Rowan-Salisbury School System Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody and Chief Finance Officer Carol Herndon for sharing their insights with us.
Join us next week for our final installment in the Making Sense of NC School Funding blog series as we examine the impact of the federal and state response to COVID-19 including funding and policy changes enacted to support districts and states.