Guest Editorial: Don’t change calculus for funding our public schools

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Beware Republicans bearing changes in the formulas used to fund public education in North Carolina.

For one thing, they’re hardly cheerleaders for public schools, what with their strong support of expanding charter schools (intended as laboratories for innovation, but some have evolved in the minds of their proprietors as quasi-private schools) and a voucher program wherein taxpayers pay some parents’ expenses for private schools.

Now, some Republicans, notably Jerry Tillman of Archdale, who have backed GOP efforts thus far, want to look at changing the formula for funding public schools. Why? One reason cited is that the current formula, which allots money to charters and school districts through 37 categories (textbooks, teachers), has been in place since 1985.

Sorry, but the fact that the system, which appears to have worked, has been around for 30 years isn’t reason enough to change it.

The real reasons behind the shakeup advocated by some lawmakers may be found in one Republican argument that funding for charters should be increased. They’re already boosting voucher money over the next decade or so. Both these things drain money from the conventional public schools to which the majority of North Carolina families send their children, and the types of schools, public schools, that have made North Carolina a better, vastly better, state over the last 100 years.

There’s another factor in this movement as well. Republicans gain most of their political strength from smaller towns and rural areas. They’ve ramped up the tension between those areas and the state’s urban areas, which drive most of the economic development in the state.

Republicans like to pit cities — which tend to be more Democratic — against those rural areas, as if the two had to be enemies.

In fact, smaller towns and rural parts of the state also benefit from the economic development in and around the cities. Many residents of those small areas work in the cities, for example. And economic development officials from the cities and rural counties can work together to recruit large businesses that may need space for their plants but access to airports (cities) in order to work in a global environment.

So there is no benefit to North Carolina or to its workers in starving urban school districts in the name of being more fair to the rural districts. There’s a solution to that issue: Fund all schools adequately, and in fact invest more in rural districts that may have been starved for money for many years. The Leandro case spotlighted that problem, and the state was ordered by the courts to stand behind its constitutional guarantee of a “sound, basic education” for all students.

Lawmakers — party doesn’t matter — need to quit trying to shift money from one place to another in order to make education dollars stretch, and spend enough on education to get the job done for all students and families.

That “sound, basic education” is the only funding formula the state needs, and it’s only a starting point. Public schools are the foundation of North Carolina in every way, helping children, families, the state economy (and educated workforce is No. 1 on the list of needs of prospective employers).

There is the foundation of a funding formula, as it is and has been for decades. There is no reason to engage in radical changes that might hurt some schools without really helping others very much in the end.