October 25, 2021

Here’s something to watch as the NC General Assembly continues to slog through budget negotiations between the NC Senate, NC House and Governor Cooper.

One of the big budget items in any state budget is the amount of taxpayer money that goes to education.  One way that cost is calculated is through a measurement called the ADM – Average Daily Membership – “a metric the state uses to determine funding awarded to districts per-student.”

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment in North Carolina schools had been dropping.  A public radio report in 2019 – pre-pandemic – showed that 78 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts had declined in enrollment over the previous year.

Reasons cited were a decline in the fertility rate and a rise in enrollment at charter schools.  That year, the decline was 2,400 students in traditional public schools across the state.

On October 20, 2020, the NC Department of Public Instruction released data showing the ADM across the state of North Carolina had dropped 5.05% – from 1,408,592 students in 2019 to 1,337,470 in 2020.  Of course, those numbers came about in the heart of the pandemic.

So we look forward to this year.  The numbers from NC DPI are apparently not out yet, but other indicators make you wonder where the numbers will land.

In a tweet from the Charlotte Ledger – a Charlotte enewsletter – numbers showing enrollment drops at some Mecklenburg County schools were from 20% to 40% over the last two school years.  Raising the question of whether those parents are shifting their children’s education to private schools, charter schools, or homeschooling.

It will be interesting to see the statewide numbers and whether there is movement overall in Mecklenburg Schools – and if there are similar significant drops in student enrollment across the state.

The COVID pandemic and parents’ frustration with school leadership has been on the front burner all year.

First there was the efforts by teachers and NCAE union leaders to keep school children from in-person learning at their schools.  Then there was the furor that cropped up with the Critical Race Theory training that was uncovered in the state and became a topic of concern for parents not wanting their children educated in such an atmosphere of division and hate.  Parents began asking questions at school board meetings, just like we’ve seen at school boards across the country and have been chastised by the liberal establishment for speaking out and asking questions about their children’s education and what their children’s teachers are really teaching.

So it will be interesting to see where public school enrollment numbers end up.

Which brings us back to the budget.  The State of North Carolina has not had a finalized state budget since 2017 because every budget passed by state legislators has been vetoed by Governor Cooper.  In those budgets was money for teachers and other infrastructure needs that have stymied by the governor for political reasons.

With all the changes occurring in education as a result of COVID, with the introduction of remote and distance learning possibilities, and the amazing show of force from the NCAE teachers union on the Governor’s decisions this past year, it will certainly be something to watch as it relates to education spending for our school students.

In their frustration with school leadership, will parents continue to vote with their feet in moving children into different educational environments?  What will the General Assembly do in dealing with a NC Superior Court Judge’s ruling stating that he can compel the NCGA to spend $1.7 billion more in education in North Carolina?

Stay tuned.