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NC spends less on K-12 students than other states

A recent national study revealed that the state spends less on its K-12 students than the national average.

The study, conducted by the National Education Association, found that North Carolina spends $8,433 per K-12 student, compared to the national average of $11,068.

And, according to data from the N.C. General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division, the state spends less on its K-12 students than it does on university students.

According to the division, North Carolina spends $13,496 on each full-time in-state UNC-system student.

Some of the higher university spending can be attributed to the costs of attracting and retaining faculty, said Jenna Ashley Robinson, director of outreach for the Pope Center for Higher Education, which advocates for efficiency in education.

“Most of (the instruction cost at universities) goes to faculty salaries,” she said. “Part of that is attracting star faculty.”

But Alexis Schauss, director of school business at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said compensation for teachers on the K-12 level is a cause for concern.

“This is not really about teacher pay,” she said. “This is about being able to get qualified individuals in the classroom. You are going to lose them if you don’t pay them.”

The National Education Association study ranked North Carolina 46th in average teacher salaries for the 2011-12 school year, with an average salary of $45,947.

But Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on education, said the state has not had difficulty recruiting teachers.

“Over the past 10 years or so, there are substantial numbers of teachers who are moving from other states because we have had jobs available,” Blackwell said.

He also said there is no strong correlation between the amount of per-pupil spending and education quality.

“If quality was correlated with spending, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and Chicago should be blowing the top out, but that’s not the case,” he said.

Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, which advocates for limited government, said better indicators of education quality are graduation rates and job readiness.

But Stoops said the state has had mixed results.

“Our graduation rate is increasing,” he said. “Our dropout rates are decreasing, and we are improving academically.”

But Stoops said there are still areas where the state could improve, such as the amount of students taking remedial courses at community college.

Rodney Ellis, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the gap between state spending on in-state UNC-system students and K-12 students indicates a need to reprioritize.

‘There is greater emphasis on the UNC system, but there are students taking remedial classes,” Ellis said.

He said students would be better prepared for college if the state increased spending on K-12 students and also increased teacher pay.

“You should make sure when students get to college, they understand the material. You do that with a strong K-12 system,” he said.

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