RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — If you look one way at North Carolina’s spending on education, it ranks 48th in the nation.

Factor in a few other numbers, and it drops into dead last.

Taken together, those two measures provide a sobering look at education spending in the state, and the national report that produced them is credible and must be taken seriously, the leader of the Hunt Institute told CBS 17 News.

The report from the Education Law Center gave North Carolina two Fs and a C in its annual “Making the Grade” overview of states’ funding of schools.

It was the topic of discussion earlier this week when the leader of the advocacy group Public School Forum in North Carolina wondered how a state that could be picked as the best in the nation for business spends so relatively little on education.

And another expert in the field — Dr. Javaid Siddiqi, the institute’s president and CEO, and a former Virginia Secretary of Education — says of state leaders: “Certainly, they’re paying attention to being No. 48.”

“That’s not a place where anybody aspires to finish,” Siddiqi said. “I think from a state government or governor’s office, the legislature, they certainly have to take great stock in that report and figure out what can we do?”

The most recent report includes data from the 2019-20 academic year that was disrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led schools to shut down in favor of virtual learning. It looks only at spending at the state and local level, and leaves out COVID relief funding and other federal funding.

“The pandemic’s effect on schools and students is a long-term challenge that requires long-term solutions,” said David Sciarra, the report’s co-author and the executive director of the New Jersey-based advocacy group.

“The temporary balm provided by federal Covid relief funding does not erase the underlying, pre-pandemic disparities in school funding documented in this report.”

The report revolves around one question — How fair is school funding in each state? — and is made up of three components.

  • The Funding Level is determined by dividing state and local revenue by student enrollment. This is where North Carolina ranks 48th, spending $10,791 per pupil — that’s $4,655 below the national average — and received an F. When adjusted for inflation, that’s about $1,300 less per student than it spent in 2008.
  • The Funding Distribution measures the difference in per-student funding between high-poverty and low-poverty districts. This is the measure in which North Carolina is doing the best, with a 5 percent difference earning the state a C grade.
  • The Funding Effort measures preschool and K-12 spending as a percentage of state wealth — i.e., its gross domestic product. North Carolina comes in dead last in this measure because it spends just 2.3 percent of its GDP on education, earning another F.

Of course, there’s an obvious solution — to spend more.

The General Assembly allocated $11.3 billion for public instruction in the 2022-23 fiscal year, according to budget documents.

But there has to be more to it than that, and Siddiqi says there’s no easy fix.

“There’s no silver bullet that’s going to get us from (No.) 48 to one,” he said. “So we have to come up with a strategy.”

He says that plan should include conversations with local school boards across the state to find out their specific needs and problems. And it is important for districts to have what he called funding flexibility, to look at what is and isn’t working.

“That’s why it’s critical that our lawmakers are getting access to data and hearing from local leaders that are implementing these types of programs, or these policies that have potentially that have cost implications,” Siddiqi said.