If Mark Johnson Wants to be “Data-Driven,” Then He Might Want to Look at the Data

“While it is unfortunate that it took more than a year and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to resolve this matter, the positive news is that we will be able to utilize the data-driven analysis to reorganize DPI to help the agency focus on its core mission of supporting educators, students and parents across North Carolina.” – Mark Johnson (6/8) on the Supreme Court decision in case with SBOE.

The idea of using data to drive policy is not a new occurrence. But it is sometimes hard to quantify the qualitative aspects of public education.  Some officials like to look at proficiency levels and scores. Teachers tend to look at growth. One is a snapshot. The other is a look at the terrain traveled.

But if Mark Johnson is now going to use some data-driven analysis, there is some irrefutable data that provides a very clear picture of what can be done to help public education here in North Carolina.

1. Poverty Influences How Well Students Perform in a State Where Over 1 in 5 Public School Students Lives in Poverty


That is from the 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

In Sept. of 2016, Mark Johnson said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/our-american-dream/).

Maybe attacking poverty at its root sources could do so much to help education. The data tends to show that.

2. Average is Not Actual When It Comes To Teacher Pay

Johnson and the people he allies himself to in the GOP super majority take a lot of time talking about how “average” teacher pay has risen.

Here’s a data point.

  • In 2017 the average teacher pay in North Carolina was %16 behind the national average. In 2018 the average teacher pay in NC was STILL %16 behind the national average.

Consider the following table compiled by John deVille, NC public school activist and teacher veteran who has chronicled the various changes in educational policy for years. He tracked the recent teacher pay “increase” and used DATA-DRIVEN logic to show something rather interesting.


What deVille did was to compare salaries as proposed from the recent budget to the 2008-2009 budget that was in place right before the Great Recession hit, the same financial catastrophe that most every GOP stalwart seems to forget happened ten years ago. Adjusting the 2008-2009 salary schedule with an inflation index from the Bureau of Labor, the third column shows what those 2008-2009 salaries would be like now. Most steps see a shortfall. Add to that the loss of longevity pay that was used to help finance these “historic raises” and the amount of money lost by teachers over these past ten years becomes rather eye-opening.

Also notice that the biggest shortfalls happen to veteran teachers. That not only affects take home pay, but also retirement because the average of the last four years helps to project pension.

Look at the charts below from the recent Teacher Working Conditions Survey released by Johnson’s office this past week.

years employed

Take notice of the number of veteran teachers in the state. Compare that to the number of teachers in the state who have less than ten years experience. There’s a trend going on in teaching here in NC. More teachers are leaving the classroom at earlier times in their career. The number of veteran teachers in the state will drop as years go by.

Even Mark Johnson left the classroom after two years. That’s a data point.

3. Public Education is the Top Employer in Most Counties

North Carolina has 100 counties (with 115 LEA’s), each with a public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools systems are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in almost 70. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And teachers are strong in numbers.


If people went to the polls in November and had public education as a top priority and had unspun information helping to inform decisions on whom to elect, then there could be significant change occurring quickly.

4. When Lawmakers Say They Are Spending More on Education, It Doesn’t Mean That Per-Pupil Expenditures Have Risen

Here’s a recent Facebook post from Senator Joyce Kraweic.

kraweic facebook post

Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2018, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. That district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down –  significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

What many in Raleigh like Kraweic want to pat themselves on the backs about is that we as a state are spending more on education than ever before. And that’s true. Just listen for the many examples to come from legislators looking to get reelected this year to the NC General Assembly yet passing a budget through a nuclear option to avoid having to answer questions about the facts.

But when the average spent per pupil does not increase with the rise in the cost of resources and upkeep and neglects to put into consideration that the population of North Carolina has exploded in the last couple of decades, then that political “victory” becomes empty.

5. Lots of Teachers Already Know These Data Points


Reason #4 To March For Students & Rally for Respect On May 16th – The Need For More Per Pupil Expenditure (Fully Funding Schools)

per pupil graph

The argument that the GOP-led General Assembly has made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Think of it in this manner. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

And, do not forget that the state is supposed to finance public education at a fully functional levelbecause the North Carolina State Constitution stipulates it.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The publication stated:

North Carolina’s first state constitution in 1776 included an education provision that stated, “A School or Schools shall be established by the Legislature for the convenient Instruction of Youth.” The legislature provided no financial support for schools.

A century later, the constitution adopted after the Civil War required the state to provide funding for all children ages 6-21 to attend school tuition-free. In 1901, the General Assembly appropriated $100,000 for public schools, marking the first time there was a direct appropriation of tax revenue for public schools. Today, the constitution mandates that the state provide a “general and uniform system of free public schools” and that the state legislature may assign counties “such responsibility for the financial support of the free public schools as it may deem appropriate.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 2 (see sidebar, “Sources of Local School Finance Law: The North Carolina State Constitution”).

Apart from the constitutional provisions, a major change in the school funding structure occurred during the Great Depression. Under the School Machinery Act (enacted in 1931 and amended in 1933), the state assumed responsibility for all current expenses necessary to maintain a minimum eight-month school term and an educational program of basic content and quality (instructional and program expenses). In exchange for the state’s expanded role, local governments assumed responsibility for school construction and maintenance (capital expenses). The School Machinery Act established counties as the basic unit for operating public schools, which is maintained today with large county-wide school systems, except in the 11 counties that also have city school systems.

What this means is that the state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, even textbooks (remember what new ones look like?). To say that the state spends @%56 of its budget on public education and then consider that to be the end-all-and-be-all to the argument is really ignoring the reasons why such a dynamic exists.

In the past before the recent power grab by the GOP in the NCGA, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. Those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering. Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and cutting jobs of teaching assistants, how can one brag about the level of money spent on public schooling? And let us not forget the abysmal funds for textbooks to accompany a common core curriculum.

Even the way state funds are dispersed to LEA’s (Local Education Agencies) is a bit disconcerting. North Carolina has 100 county school systems and 15 city systems which combine for 115 LEA’s not including charters and other regional schools. Our state practices a system that simply provides all LEA’s a certain amount of money based on teacher-to-student ratios (even with class size caps removed in high schools) which mostly disregards the needs that individual LEA’s may have, especially in more poverty-stricken areas. Every LEA gets a prescribed amount of money based on a few numbers.

One of the more cohesive explanations of North Carolina’s state funding practices is a publication by the Center for American Progress entitled “The Stealth Inequities of School Funding” produced in 2012. It summarizes our state’s practices in a fairly concise manner. It says,

“North Carolina simply operates a generally unequalized formula that is also only slightly adjusted for differences in student needs and includes a modest adjustment for low-wealth districts (in place of more substantive wealth equalization). That is, while the states spotlighted in previous sections of this chapter allocated portions of their total state aid through separate unequalized formulas, North Carolina’s entire aid formula is of this type. The North Carolina formula is similar in many ways to formulas in other Southern states, including Alabama, which is also highly regressive. The formula is essentially a block-grant formula that determines the amount of state aid to be delivered by calculating the basic cost of providing specific pupil-to-teacher ratios for different grade ranges, as shown in Table 9. The formula provides a handful of supplemental allotments to accommodate special needs. Additionally, the formula assumes an average distribution of county revenue to local schools to support the basic education program (p.46).”

Federal and local funds do count for a portion of resources, but the way those funds are allocated is not a simple formula. What happened when federal Race to the Top money runs out? And how does one explain the amount of local funds that can be raised by poorer rural counties as opposed to more affluent areas of the state?

But it sure as hell makes for an artificially fertile ground to build unregulated charter schools.