How North Carolina’s budget impacts education here in Chatham County

By Jaime Detzi, Guest Columnist
Posted 9/29/21

When you hear about the state budget negotiations happening in Raleigh, it is hard to discern exactly how that budget impacts you and your family here in Chatham County. Specifically, how does the …

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How North Carolina’s budget impacts education here in Chatham County

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When you hear about the state budget negotiations happening in Raleigh, it is hard to discern exactly how that budget impacts you and your family here in Chatham County. Specifically, how does the education budget impact you, your local schools, your property value, your local taxes, and the students and teachers here in Chatham?

The state of N.C. has a budget surplus of approximately $6.5 billion. There are a number of ways in which these funds could either be used to support our communities or saved for a rainy day fund. Considering the state lost a lawsuit for not meeting its constitutional obligation for a sound and basic education, spending additional funds for public education is a no-brainer. In fact, a clear plan for how to implement a system of impactful changes is detailed in The Comprehensive Leandro Remediation Plan.

Here are a few ways the budget decisions at the state level impact us here in Chatham:

Availability of school support staff

Teachers are at times asked to be nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists because N.C. is falling way behind recommended staffing levels. If recurring funding is put in place, as suggested by the Governor’s budget recommendation, our Chatham teachers can focus more on instruction, and less on filling the gap where the state falls short. These support personnel positions are needed more than ever due to the pandemic and the social and emotional stress to children during these times.

Research suggests effective school counselors can impact student success including high school graduation rates and college attendance. In order to maintain effective counselors, districts must sustain professional development with coaching to improve outcomes for our Chatham students. (Chatham has a student-to-counselor ratio of 400:1, the American School Counselor Association recommends a ration of 250:1.)

Teacher retention and recruitment

Recruiting and retaining high quality teachers in N.C. is a challenge for each and every school district considering North Carolina is ranked 33rd nationally for teacher pay. If N.C. increases state allotments for teacher pay considerably, as is recommended by the Governor’s budget, Chatham County could better retain teachers both leaving the profession or leaving N.C. to teach in other states. This is also important because failure to adequately fund at the state level puts pressure on local taxes as counties must cover additional supplements that bring pay to even a minimally acceptable level. This system creates great inequities across the state which impacts us in many ways: for example workers cross county lines.

In addition, a few years back North Carolina removed an increase in pay for teachers with master’s degrees. Restoring master’s pay will also support the state’s effort to keep our teachers here in N.C. and Chatham, while increasing teacher quality. (RAND Education and Labor states, “Teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership” on student academic performance.)

Early childhood education

Research shows that 90% of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, therefore early learning experiences are of utmost importance for our kids. When the state financially supports quality preschools, our kids benefit from the increased teacher pay and effectiveness, by increasing their readiness for kindergarten. Did you know that school readiness is one driving factor to students reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade? Kids who read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school on time.

In addition to the benefits early learning gives our kids, from an economics perspective, it is also wise for our state to invest in early childhood programs. A study by Dr. James Heckman shows that for every dollar invested in high quality early childhood education taxpayers can expect a 13% return on their investment. What does this mean for your tax dollars? The impacts on tax dollars are both short and long term including fewer needs for special education in K-12, lower incarceration rates, less need for welfare, and an increased future income and thereby increased tax base.

The state budget should include recurring revenue to support expanding the NC Pre-K programs as well as Smart Start and other programs that support low and middle income families.

Property values

The National Bureau of Economic Research shows a correlation between school expenditures and home values. Specifically, for every dollar spent on public education, home values increase by $20. So residents in Chatham, even without children, benefit from a strong, well funded school system for years to come.

Your taxes

As mentioned, the state has a $6.5 billion surplus. As the state pulls away from its responsibility to support public schools, pressure is put on Chatham’s local tax base to fill the gap. As our commissioners work to keep our local tax rate low, it is imperative that we require N.C. to pay its full share of public education dollars. Legally, the state government is required to pay for instructional expenses, including personnel for our schools and the local districts are required to pay for capital expenses (building and maintenance). If the state continues to forgo its responsibilities, more public school expenses will be pushed to Chatham County and there will be no way to keep our tax rates low. Every Child N.C. has a great tool online to see how funding for each school district will look when Leandro is resolved.

Broadband access

Broadband.com reports only 80% of Chatham County residents have access to quality broadband. Compared to surrounding districts, this is very low (Wake County = 99.9%, Orange County = 94.3%, Lee County = 95.5%). This impacts not only our adults, but our students completing homework and has had great impacts in the past year when virtual learning was the only option. All three proposed state budgets include some form of broadband infrastructure funding, much needed here in Chatham and many other rural areas in N.C.

As we move forward it is important to note that as N.C. continues to fail to meet its constitutional obligations for public school funding for instructional expenses, more and more of the burden is pushed to our counties, including Chatham. Imagine a world where the state of North Carolina was fully funding its obligation to our public schools and local education funding was spent entirely on innovation in our schools, not filling needs unmet by our state. If we support public education advocates in our legislature, we can make this happen for North Carolina.

Jaime Detzi is the executive director of the Chatham Education Foundation.

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