GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Equitable school funding in North Carolina has been an ongoing debate for nearly three decades, as the Leandro v. State of North Carolina saga continues to wind its way through the courts.

If you don’t know about Leandro – other than the political hot potato it has become – it is a court ruling based on a suit filed in 1994 that found some school districts in North Carolina were underfunded by the state. A judge last year finally ordered the state to allocate roughly $1.7 billion to ameliorate the issue.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WGHP file photo)
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WGHP file photo)

That’s the ongoing argument and court debate – can a court tell the state how to spend its money? – but it sets aside another important issue: Which of our school districts have problems with equitable funding?

Enter WalletHub, the financial advice website that takes data and crunches it down to provide insights and rankings on a variety of topics. WalletHub found that North Carolina has the third-most equitable school districts in the U.S.

That’s bragging rights, but that still doesn’t mean that NC doesn’t have issues, and WalletHub decided to crunch the numbers further and focus on which districts fund students at the most appropriate levels.

The bottom line is that Catawba County Schools does the best job, providing $9,184 per pupil against an average income of $57,141, and three districts in the Piedmont Triad – Stokes County, Caswell County and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County – rank in the top 10. Guilford County (at No. 22) and Elkin City Schools (No. 23) came in next.

But there were area school districts at the bottom, too. Lexington City Schools ranked No. 110 out of the 115 districts surveyed. Mount Airy City Schools was No. 99, and Asheboro City Schools was No. 90.

Source: WalletHub

How it was calculated

Here’s how WalletHub arrived at its rankings, using a lower-score-is-better system, meaning 1 was best. Analysts:

  • Scored 12,876 school districts throughout the U.S. based on average household income and expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools per pupil.
  • Gave each school district a base score of 50 points and, for each 1% above the state’s average, removed 1 point from those 50. For each 1% above the state’s average household income, 1 point was added, and if below, 1 point was subtracted.
  • The final score for each district was calculated by taking the absolute difference between the score for expenditures and the score for household income.

How they ranked

All that math left Catawba County with a score of .15, just .01 ahead of Stokes County. Lincoln County (.32), Caswell (.38), Swain County (1.23), Winston-Salem/Forsyth (1.29), Stanly County (1.4), Avery County (1.46), Jackson County (1.54) and Haywood County (1.74) completed the top 10.

At the bottom, you find that some of the highest income areas have the worst scores. For example, Wake County, where the average income is $83,567, is third from worst. Its neighboring cities and counties also ranked poorly.

The bottom 10 (reverse order No. 115-105): Hyde County (86.64), Chapel Hill-Carrboro (72.14), Wake County (56.99), Orange County (56.80), Union County (52.17), Lexington (44.57), Currituck County (42.5), Asheville City (41.72), Robeson County (41.4), Chatham County (39.42) and Dare County (37.62).

If you are looking for the rest of the Piedmont Triad, Montgomery County is No. 28, Davidson County is No. 38, Alamance/Burlington is No. 53, Surry County is No. 58, Randolph County is No. 61, Davie County is No. 63, Yadkin County is No. 65, Alleghany County is No. 70, Thomasville City is No. 72, Wilkes County is No. 80, and Rockingham County is No. 82

Per-pupil spending

But the fuss about Leandro is, of course, the raw issue of per-student spending, and WalletHub’s data gives us a clear picture about which districts are receiving the most for each of its students. And generally the greater the per-student spending, the worse the rank by WalletHub.

Hyde County, for instance, ranks No. 115 in overall equity because each student is funded by $20,865. Northampton County has the second highest per-student figure ($15,896).

Catawba County, the district that ranks highest for equity, is ninth worst in per-student spending, at $9,184.

Best in the Triad was Thomasville ($12,256), which is ironic given that the lowest figure in the state is Davidson County Schools ($8,573). Randolph County ($9,132) is seventh worst.

But Thomasville also scores sixth worst when it comes to income by school district ($35,097). County-cousin Lexington scores at the very bottom ($30,161). Mount Airy is fourth ($34,756). The highest amount in the Triad is Davie County ($62,028).