T.R.U.E.

Report Findings

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True Reports of
Underfunded
Education

The purpose of this report is to examine the impact of underfunding on North Carolina public schools and how the long-term inequitable distribution of these funds negatively impacts the education opportunities of North Carolina students and educators. Correspondingly, the overarching purpose of this report is to recommend that policymakers prioritize North Carolina’s children’s education in the state budget.

The purpose of this report is to examine the impact of underfunding on North Carolina public schools and how the long-term inequitable distribution of these funds negatively impacts the education opportunities of North Carolina students and educators. Correspondingly, the overarching purpose of this report is to recommend that policymakers prioritize North Carolina’s children’s education in the state budget.

Education Funding in North Carolina

Leandro Plan (Every Child NC)

The state constitution guarantees that all North Carolina children have access to a sound, basic education. However, since the Leandro v. State of North Carolina case was filed in 1994, the courts have consistently found that far too many students are not receiving an education that meets the state’s minimum standard.

As a remedy for Leandro v. State, the state submitted a Comprehensive Plan in 2021 that details the policy changes and budgetary provisions that are to be instituted by the North Carolina legislature over a period of eight years. The Comprehensive Remedial Plan was submitted to the North Carolina Superior Court in March of 2021 and signed by Judge David Lee in June 2021. 

Despite having billions of dollars in unallocated revenue and being under court order, the General Assembly refuses to commit the funding to successfully implement the Leandro Plan. To learn more about the community-led response to Leandro and the advocates leading the fight for equitable funding, visit https://everychildnc.org/ To see what children are owed in your county and school district, see our Leandro Impact Analysis for Early Education and our Leandro Impact Analysis for  K-12.

Current Research

For over a decade, North Carolina’s legislative leaders have prioritized tax cuts over providing students with public schools that meet constitutional standards. The obvious results of these policy priorities have been well documented. Current research reveals that North Carolina’s school finance system is among the worst in the nation.

Per Pupil Spending

North Carolina’s cost-adjusted per-student funding level NC’s per pupil spending for 2019-2020 was almost $3,000 below the national average ($13,597 vs. $10,632) -- placing North Carolina 39th in the country for expenditures per student.

Teacher Compensation

Teachers in North Carolina are not being compensated fairly. According to the NEA’s 2021 Rankings and Estimates, the projected national average teacher salary for 2020-2021 is about $9,000 less than the national average. When compared to other college graduates, North Carolina teachers make 25.3% less than professionals who have similar levels of education.

School Repair Needs

Schools all over the state, both urban and rural, are in desperate need of repair. North Carolina has a nearly $13 billion backlog in new school construction and renovations, according to the 2020-21 Facility Needs Survey. An increase of more than $4 billion over the $8 billion reported in the Facility Needs Survey five years ago. Due to these shortfalls, North Carolina students are suffering in sometimes deplorable conditions.

The responses received from the T.R.U.E. portal from all over North Carolina only confirm these research findings. Educators and students are overly stressed and working with little resources in unhealthy environments.

Methodology

This report utilized first-person testimonials to analyze the current conditions of public schools in the state.

In order to gain the most diverse amount of information from as wide of a swath of the state as possible, we developed a testimonial collection instrument through a website form. Respondents were able to share their own experience surrounding the current state of public schools, how chronic underfunding has impacted them, and/or share what they would like to see lawmakers change in order to help.

The website was marketed through various means, including news media, emails and social media platforms, in order to maximize responses from educators and parents in North Carolina. The website form was fielded between September 29, 2021 and October 29, 2021. 

Once collected, comments were analyzed and issue-cited based on seven recurring indicators reported by respondents:

  • Shortage of resources/supplies: Remarks on low and/or lack of resources and classroom supplies.

  • Low wages: Remarks on low salary, slim raises, multiple jobs.

  • Long hours and burnout: Comments on working overtime, teaching multiple classrooms, performing duties outside of their designated roles and signs of emotional toll, pressure to produce quality work. I.e; limited planning time, short test preparations, catching up students.

  • Class Size: Signs of overcrowded class and/or lack of teachers, instructors per pupil.
  • Infrastructure: Signs of crumbling buildings, poor quality systems, lack of structure, unsafe conditions, lack of accessibility and new appliances.

  • Staff Shortages: Comments on lack of available personnel, including teachers, teacher assistants,  nurses, counselors, bus drivers, cleaning staff, etc.

  • Safety: Remarks on unsafe conditions for students and staff. Lack of PPE and failing to adhere to CDC guidelines to keep educators, personnel and students safe.

These seven indicators represent the most frequent concerns reported from teachers, school staff, parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens. Descriptions of the indicators and example submissions can be found in the next section.

To protect the anonymity of respondents, all identifying information has been removed from this report.

Responses were acquired from across the state, with the most concentrated responses centering in the largest school districts. Between September 29, 2021 and October 29, 2021, 592 reports were submitted.

Responses were acquired from across the state, with the most concentrated responses centering in the largest school districts. Between September 29, 2021 and October 29, 2021, 592 reports were submitted.

Submissions By Geographic Location

Through the collection of zip codes from respondents, the following map illustrates the geographical distribution of comments submitted to the website.

Mapline_TRUE_Map (1)

Geographically, the issues being experienced by the respondents are not localized and are, in fact, being experienced by the entire state, both urban and rural.

Testimonials from North Carolinians

Low Wages -122 Reports

Summary:

The largest reported issue among all responses was the huge impact staff shortages have had on everyone. Respondents shared the impacts of a shortage of bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, substitute teachers, teachers, instructional assistants, administrative staff, counselors, therapists, and nurses.

A shortage of bus drivers has caused students to chronically miss classes and to stay at school hours past dismissal time. It has forced working parents to be late for jobs or to even have to leave jobs in order to get students to class. Teachers report having to alter curriculum due to the large number of absent and late students, and staying at school for hours as students wait to be picked up by buses.

A shortage of substitutes has caused teachers, instructional assistants, and specialists to cover multiple classrooms instead of taking lunches or having prep time. With an increase of teachers being out sick because of COVID this has put incredible strain on all staff.  

In addition, teachers and teacher’s assistants have shared frustration about not being compensated for this extra work.

Parents have reported classrooms that do not have permanent teachers at all causing confusion and frustration for students. 

A lack of custodial and maintenance staff has forced teachers to clean their own rooms and bathrooms as well as leaving serious maintenance issues unresolved for long periods of time.

Finally, teachers and parents have all expressed concern about the lack of school counselors and nurses when students are dealing with the trauma of the pandemic and increased school violence.

Examples:

  • “My 12th grader has two classes without teachers and my 9th grader has one. This is completely unacceptable”.
  • “Our school has vacancies that need to be filled, and NO subs, so support staff and classroom teachers alike are being pulled to provide coverage for teacherless classrooms. As the librarian, there are many days where I spend half my day providing this coverage, and the media center is closed”.
  • “ So not only did I get my bachelor degree to be a teacher, I am also a custodian, sweeping floors, colorizing tables, and cleaning up spills and messes. I also must clean my toilet, wipe my sink and clean my mirror”.
  • “Teachers having to cover classes for missing colleagues is a problem. They are NOT being compensated and are expected to cover teacher classes during a planning that is needed”.
  • “We currently have 1 assistant for 5 first grade teachers that is not enough help for little children. It is also not safe, If I have 5 children lined up for the rest room, one wets and the other throws up and the others are dancing around there is nothing I can do alone”. 
  • “My child’s school does not have a school counselor. My child’s school only has one administrator. My child’s school needs more staff!!!” 
  • “Our school is sorely short on custodians. We have almost 1000 students and 2 custodians. I teach in a trailer and we eat 2 meals a day in our trailer. It took 4 weeks of school before a custodian set foot in our trailer”. 
  • “My child has gone through 5 weeks of beginner French, taught only by substitutes who speak no French and mostly use the Duolingo app”.
  • “Due to the lack of bus drivers, my child often does not have a morning bus to get him to school, and the afternoon bus is often delayed 45+ minutes”.

Long Hours and Burnout - 87 Reports

Summary:

Educators and other staff reported increasing hours as they have to cover other positions, are losing planning time, and having to wait on buses. Teachers spoke of professional development (i.e., staff meetings and trainings) taking up their own personal time as well as having to work every evening and weekend. These extra hours continue to be uncompensated as some teachers are still working both in-class and online classes.

In addition to the challenges imposed by COVID-19, teachers reported high levels of stress and burnout as they are asked to do more with less resources and prep time while the level of scrutiny continues to increase. 

There were many educators who expressed that they are considering leaving the profession. It seems very clear that all school staff members are continually being asked to do more with less for no increase in salary.

Submission Examples:

  • “I am working 13 hours a day minimum just to keep up with planning, grading, and parent contact”.
  • “Teachers work 15-20 hours of unpaid overtime each week because planning time is not sufficient”. 
  • “As an educator in my 8th year, I am seriously considering leaving the profession because my stress and work levels far outweigh the amount I am getting paid, irregardless of the infinite joy it brings me to connect with my students”.
  • “Planning periods are routinely taken away, which leaves us with no time to do non-instructional things like planning and grading, yet we are expected to do them. We already exist with no lunch breaks, working 8-9 hour days with no breaks and then we have to stay after to do the other things which are required of us. It is just plain wrong”.
  • “We have to wear so many hats and it’s not fair because this causes a lot of stress on teachers and causes health problems. People talk about self-care but teachers sometimes do not have the time or the money to take care of themselves”.
  • “As a parent and teacher, I can see the burnout of staff. The lack of support, resources, and fact that many teachers work 2nd jobs is taking a major toll on students. I fear we will not have qualified candidates left to teach in the near future!”

Shortage of Resources/Supplies - 56 Reports

Summary:

Both parents and staff shared frustration with the lack of adequate supplies and resources, especially for students with special needs. North Carolinians shared instances of outdated and dysfunctional electronics, and a lack of any textbooks and other learning materials.

Parents expressed anger at having to purchase more and more supplies every year. Teachers shared that they are increasingly purchasing all the supplies for their classrooms, including sanitary supplies like tissue paper and bathroom supplies. 

Respondents made it clear that they believe the state should be doing more to fund these needs rather than having to purchase them out of pocket.

Submission Examples:

  • “We are still using PCs from the early 2000s. We have smartboards that are no longer interactive because the technology isn’t supported or is outdated. We have a shortage of paper towels and cleaning supplies in our district”. 
  • “The Chromebooks were 6-7 years old and falling apart - chipped corners, missing keys, slow to respond. I spent more than half of every day dealing with Chromebook issues instead of managing the media center”.
  • “I'm tired of having to write grants for basic supplies in my classroom”.
  • “I purchase my own supplies yearly and have since around 2010. We haven’t had enough textbooks for my senior English students since 2005”.
  • “Teachers need parents to provide all school supplies including things such as scissors, tissue, and paper. These are basic necessities that teachers usually most pay oop or instead request parents lift the pressure”. 
  • “First of all, no textbooks. I realize that a great deal of learning is online aided, but I have been told since my child began school in NC in 2013 that there was not adequate funding to provide all students with textbooks”.

Infrastructure - 47 Reports

Summary:

The portal collected a host of reports of crumbling buildings, moldy classrooms, dysfunctional HVAC systems, lack of proper furniture, lack of adequate space, insect infestation, dilapidated pods, and leaking roofs and walls.

Parents and educators expressed extreme concern about the state of our school buildings and see no relief coming without significant investments into larger, healthier spaces. It is reported that these problems are having negative impacts on children and the learning environment. 

Submission Examples:

  • “There's mold. There are windows that don't work. There are rooms that don't have working AC. We have places in our school where students walk over wooden pallets when it rains because of the water puddling on the floor”.
  • “Infrastructure! The Middle school where I work was built in the 1960's. It does not meet the needs we now have as a Title 1 school. We need more classrooms, office space, and small conference rooms for all of the tutoring and extra staff our students require. Every closet and storage room in the school has been revamped as some kind of office or meeting room. Our student desks are falling apart”.
  • “One of the buildings on my campus is currently condemned. We went one whole year with broken AC in the gym area and our AC is still messed up (our building is over 50 years old)”.
  • “I have made friends with the HVAC guys because they are in my room constantly because the unit breaks. Only so many band aid fixes will hold”.
  • “My son’s school is overcrowded and in need of serious repairs. The nearby middle school is in worse shape”.

Class Size - 34 Reports

Summary:

It seems clear from responses that classes above grade three are growing as enrollment increases. Teachers report rooms bursting at the seams with students. Class sizes seem to be growing to well over 25 and in some reports, over 30 students per class.

Parents and teachers blame a lack of space and a lack of teachers to cover these classes. They have expressed that increased funding would solve this problem and create a better learning environment for all students.

Submission Examples:

  • “All my classes have 30+ students which makes it impossible to teach/help every student effectively. No steps have been taken to reduce class sizes”.
  • “Since caps were put in K-3 with no funding to go with it, our class sizes in 4-5 have skyrocketed. I have 27 students packed into my dirty little trailer”. 
  • “I have witnessed classes that were designed to have a maximum of 25 students being crammed with 38 and 40 students”. 
  • “Class size is too big and teachers are stretched too thin. It amazes me how much they put into it”. 
  • “Our classrooms are overpopulated. The studies are there, showing that students learn best and have higher passing rates in classrooms of 20-25 students, yet we routinely have classes of 35+ and schools must meet ridiculous population levels to have the chance at gaining another position”. 

Safety - 31 Reports

Summary:

Safety was a prominent issue in our findings. There were many reports of unsafe COVID-19 conditions due to lack of proper space to socially distance students and lack of proper PPE. Parents pointed out that overcrowded buses are places where students can pass on illnesses to each other and bus driving staff.

Reports of unsafe buildings, unclean air, and water were also prominent as well as concerns about the ability to properly protect children from violence.

Submission Examples:

  • “Busses have been overcrowded and many parents are not comfortable with the lack of safety measures in place during this ongoing pandemic. Since our young children can't get vaccinated, they are at a higher risk of catching covid and spreading it to other students while being in such close quarters”.
  • “We have no PPE in the classroom”.
  • “The very least we should be able to expect is a physically safe learning environment where the air is safe to breathe, the plumbing and electricity works, and kids can travel the halls safely”.
  • “3rd-5th graders don’t have doors in their classrooms, they operate in a “pod” so there is open air into 4 shared classroom spaces. - Very unsafe situation during a lockdown. We even had a class on how to use a drop cord to tie the door shut in case of a real threat”. 
  • “I have to use side tables as desks because there are so many students crammed in my classes, but we're supposed to keep them socially distanced "when possible”.

Praise for Teachers - 15

Summary:

Many parents shared praise for the excellent work educators have done during the most trying time most of us have ever experienced. Teachers also shared praise and gratitude for colleagues and parents who have been supportive and resilient.

Submission Examples:

  • “My children’s teachers and administrators have shown tremendous grace and patience under challenging and uncertain circumstances and worked hard to convey positivity and provide as normal a school experience as possible under the circumstances. I consistently see teachers working to help students become critical and agile thinkers and kind and open-minded citizens; they are forward-thinking and constantly adjusting to new demands, and they're doing a wonderful job”.
  • “Teachers and staff have shown great poise and fortitude since March 2020 in teaching and caring for our school children. great job under some of the most trying of circumstances!”
  • “I absolutely cannot say a bad word about my school district. Camden County does an amazing job of supporting us and asking us what they can do to help take some of the load off. The problem is higher up, and it has to change”.

Conclusion

Since the state Supreme Court’s decision in Leandro v. State of North Carolina case, a quality education has become even more mandatory for North Carolina students to gain the skills necessary to navigate our ever-changing world, and it is clear that North Carolina continues to deny those educational opportunities by failing to adequately fund public schools.

The first-person testimonials from teachers, school staff, parents, grandparents and concerned citizens document the prevalence of chronic neglect and underfunding within schools across North Carolina. Overwhelmingly, the impact of low salaries, lack of resources and underfunding have denied educators and students of a healthy, well-resourced learning environment.

It is clear that real, systemic change is needed for the wellness and success of North Carolina public schools, and that change must come from state policies like the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan, which details how public school funds are equitably and adequately allocated.

Through this report, we call on policymakers to ensure educational opportunities are delivered to North Carolina students as designated by the state constitution and the Leandro v. State of North Carolina ruling. 

Next Steps

The Leandro Plan provides a detailed roadmap for ensuring every child has access to a sound basic education by 2028. The Leandro Plan eliminates the inequity and funding deficiencies that prevent students from getting the services and opportunities they’re owed.

The Leandro Plan addresses the critical needs of the North Carolina public school system and prioritizes investment and policy changes in the following areas:

  • Provides qualified and diverse teachers and principals in every school who are supported with training and professional development opportunities.
  • Provides a school funding system that’s adequate and equitable, with schools with the greatest need receiving extra support.
  • Reduces schools’ narrow focus on standardized tests by lowering the stakes and overhauling discriminatory accountability practices.
  • Invests in high-quality early education (before age 5) programs, such as early intervention, prekindergarten, and affordable daycare.
  • Strengthens pathways from high school to college and career by providing more relevant experience and training.
  • Begins to address staffing shortages, particularly for teachers, nurses, counselors, therapists, and librarians.
  • Begins to address school repair needs with statewide school bond.

The newly directed investments as part of the Leandro Plan, while representing transformational improvements for children, would still only amount to the bare minimum standard of education needed to comply with the constitution. 

Future policies should build upon the quality of every school, starting from the quality and excellence of the instruction, the resources to consistently meet the needs of at-risk students and accountability to ensure all students, regardless of race, zip code or economic status, have access to sound, basic education.

Nevertheless, the Leandro Plan would move us closer to reaching national average standards and put the state on the path towards realizing an equitable, high-quality statewide education system.  

To learn more about the community-led response to Leandro and the advocates leading the fight for equitable funding, visit https://everychildnc.org/ 

To see what children are owed in your county and school district, see EveryChildNC’s Leandro Impact Analysis for Early Education and Leandro Impact Analysis for  K-12.