State governments should work hard to narrow a gap in the amount of money that high-poverty and low-poverty school districts receive.
lthough the years of the economic bubble showed promise for equality, the disparity between high-poverty and low-poverty school districts has started to grow again in recent years.
North Carolina has kept below the average discrepancy, but the governor and General Assembly - along with others across the country - should take the initiative in addressing inequality in the funding of education. The state government should commit to helping low-poverty school districts get the funding they need and to exploring ways that counties can increase their revenues for their school districts so they can satisfy their own funding needs.
The Education Trust, a research group that supports the No Child Left Behind policy, recently released a report that shows a widening gap in funding per student between poor and wealthy districts, with the national average difference being $868 in 2002.
This is an increase from 2000, when the national average gap was $728. This disparity increase can be attributed to the combined effects of the end of the '90s booming economy and the slashing of state budgets that followed.
In 2002 the disparity in funding between the poorest and the wealthiest districts in North Carolina was $622 per student, an increase from the average gap in North Carolina in 1997 - $464 per student.
Surrounding states have been better able to address the discrepancy than North Carolina has, despite their own budget cuts, and even have reversed the trend so that poorer districts receive more per student.
South Carolina and Georgia both closed the gap in 2002, providing more funding for schools in poor districts than for the ones in the top income districts. Kentucky has a lower discrepancy than North Carolina. When examining our neighboring states, only Virginia has worse figures in the report than North Carolina.
The governor and General Assembly should develop a way of resolving this problem. The state should commit to helping the poorer school districts like Burke or Pasquotank counties achieve a greater parity with counties like Mecklenburg.
Whatever form it might take, a solution is needed sooner rather than later. The state needs to lead and not to follow on this issue before the disparity grows worse and more drastic actions are needed.
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