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This N&O story caught my eye this morning: a new report from Columbia Group (see the PDF at the end of the post) argues that North Carolina, like the rest of the South, needs to get to work fixing K-12 education.

  • “‘Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South,’ a report released Tuesday, found that student achievement has increased significantly overall in the South in the past several decades. But the report found that Southern states must deal with historic inequities in education—student performance varies widely by race and income—that hold back many parts of the region. To improve education, the report found that states need to get the South’s finest to become teachers, give students the support they need, strengthen students’ ability to go to college or get a job after high school and match resources with students’ needs.”
  • “The poll found that 85 percent of voters say states should take action to correct differences in the quality of education within the state, and 84 percent say their states should adjust school funding to ensure greater fairness between wealthy and poor communities. The percentages were even higher to both questions for voters from North Carolina.”
  • In North Carolina, per the report: “Gaps widened for students from low-income families in 4th and 8th grade reading and math. The gap for black students narrowed in 8th grade math, but widened in 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade reading. Gaps for Hispanic students widened in 4th and 8th grade reading, stayed the same in 4th grade math, and narrowed in 8th grade math.”
  • Another tidbit: just 22 percent of N.C. four-year-olds are in pre-K, compared to 76 percent in Florida (which has offered universal pre-K for more than a decade) and 66 percent in West Virginia. Only Alabama (19 percent), Virginia (18 percent), and Mississippi (4 percent) rank lower.
  • From the N&O: “One way to help close the gaps, according to the report, is to help children get off to a good start. But the report noted that only 22 percent of North Carolina 4-year-olds were enrolled in state pre-kindergarten programs in 2016. North Carolina also ranked 33rd nationally in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS Count report, which covers different indicators of children’s health. Addressing the achievement gaps, the report found, also will require Southern states to deal with an increasingly diverse student population. The report called on states to look at school discipline practices in light of how black students are suspended at much higher rates than other groups. … In North Carolina, the report says the state’s school funding system ‘worked well for years, but demographics of the state’s children have changed dramatically, and larger counties are growing in population rapidly while rural areas are losing population.’”

WHAT IT MEANS: The problem is that, as the report noted, many of these gaps take place in urban districts, not in rural ones. Meanwhile, the state’s policymakers—at least the ones who wield real power—come from rural areas and have been decidedly antagonistic to urban areas. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Wake County, the state’s biggest school district, which has raised property taxes for three consecutive years to fund its schools and will ask voters to approve a referendum this fall for school construction. And still, it can’t meet the school board’s annual funding requests. The funding crunch will likely get worse if Wake is forced to comply with the legislature’s mostly unfunded K–3 class-size mandate this year.