State enrollment growth funding worries educators

Aug. 11, 2014 @ 05:02 PM

Like their counterparts in school districts throughout the state, Durham school leaders are worried about a decision by state lawmakers to no longer automatically fund enrollment growth.

The provision was part of the $21.1 billion state budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last week.

 “That’s incredibly worrisome,” school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said last week, noting that Phillip Price, the chief financial officer for the Department of Public Instruction, called the move the “largest change in the budget” in his lifetime.

Before, school districts received planning allotments based upon state projections for enrollment growth.

But under the new provision, districts won’t know how much money they will receive for enrollment growth until after lawmakers have adopted a state budget.

 “What that means is we will no longer get planning allotments based upon state projections,” said Aaron Beaulieu, the school district’s chief financial officer. “We normally get a grade-by-grade estimate of how many students they project we will have and then how it translates to our state funding based upon state formulas.”

Beaulieu said not receiving planning allotments will make a tough task all the more difficult.

“Next year there will not be a projected ADM figure and we won’t know until after the budget is passed what figure they used to calculate our funding,” Beaulieu said. “This makes a very complex process even harder.”

Enrollment for Durham’s publicly funded schools is projected to grow from 33,295 to 33,907, a difference of 612 students. About half of those additional students are expected to enroll in charter schools.

Carter noted earlier discussions between the school board and county commissioners regarding a school board request for an extra $716,000 in local funding to cover charter school enrollment growth.

The commissioners denied the request, forcing the school board to fund charter school growth using existing money.

Carter said planning for growth, when you add in such negotiations with commissioners, is already difficult. 

“Now, that’s going to be magnified,” Carter said, referring to the new provision. “It’s going make it totally impossible to do good planning.”

Some school districts have expressed concern that not automatically funding enrollment growth will make it more difficult to recruit teachers until the fall when the money for enrollment growth is handed down.

They also worry that enrollment-growth funding will now have to compete with other priorities

But lawmakers who support the provision contend the change will simply streamline the process and give the public a sense of the real cost of funding public education in North Carolina.