NC school spending is not too low

June 19, 2013 

Rob Christensen delivered an excellent overview in Monday’s N&O of changes we can expect since voters gave the GOP a mandate to run state government for the first time in living memory.

Ours is pretty close to a pure two party system. While there is a Green Party and a Libertarian Party and some others we hear little about, these fringe parties have elected few if any of their members to positions at any level. In almost all elections, the menu is limited to the Democrats and the Republicans.

In a rich country such as the United States, a two-party system will inevitably lead to natural constituencies for each party.

Almost by default or necessity, one party will be more appealing to those who see government as the solution to most of the problems of the country and their own individual situations while the other party will be more appealing to those who see “big government” as more of a problem than a solution.

Each party will have supporters that range from the rabid to the nearly indifferent.

Many voters will support each party at different times in their lives and many can support either party depending on the election and the representatives from each party.

At one time, I advocated always supporting the incumbent. My reasoning was that if an incumbent is defeated, I end up having to pay one a salary and the other a pension. If the incumbent is re-elected, I am saved a pension for the time being.

As you might imagine, I expect very little from government and my expectations are usually met.

Governments at all levels are usually run by one or the other party. You can count on those in power to govern in accordance with their own inclinations and what they perceive to be the wishes of the electorate.

In North Carolina, the Republicans have taken the reigns of the state government after a long absence. As Christensen reports, even some Democrats believe that a fresh look can be a good thing.

If one party has been in power for a long time, it is likely that they have steered a course that is somewhat centrist. I believe that that has been the case with our Democrats in North Carolina.

Some are now accusing the Republicans of targeting laws and programs enacted by the Democrats. I can’t imagine that it could be otherwise since almost all of our laws will have the fingerprints of the Democratic Party as they had been in power for so long.

There is a great deal of focus on education.

Christensen reports that there has been an actual decrease in spending on education between 2007-2008 and the current year. While that does indeed indicate some “pruning,” it is also reflective of the economic realities that have imposed a lot of pruning on all governments over the past five years.

Our state that is growing rapidly as is our school age population. That holds true most of all for our larger school systems such as the Wake County system with 150,000 students and growing.

Much is made of the fact that our spending per pupil is among the lowest in the US. I am not surprised.

I have lived in a school district that was contracting and closing schools. States that have stagnant and aging populations necessarily spend more per pupil as they have too many schools. Based on my personal observations, it’s much more difficult to close schools than to build new ones.

Many of our schools are at or above optimal capacity. That lowers the per pupil spending.

Schools with shrinking numbers that lay off teachers are left with the teachers with the most seniority and those with the highest salaries.

Conversely, a state such as North Carolin with a growing school population hires many recent graduates who earn salaries at the bottom end of the pay scale and whose salaries rise slowly in their first years of teaching. Since teacher wages represent more than 60 percent of all spending on public education, this also lowers our per-pupil spending.

Many would say that we spend too much on administrative and support services. According to a Wall Street Journal published on May 31, Noth Carolina spends over 50 cents on such services for every dollar spent on teachers. That may seem high but it is the third lowest in the country. Therefore, our relative efficiency in operating our schools also contributes to lowering our per-pupil spending.

Given our relatively low cost of living, I find nothing alarming in the numbers.

Marc Landry can be reached at

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