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OPINION: NHC Commissioners On School Funding

By New Hanover County Commissioners, posted Mar 4, 2024
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners is steadfast in its commitment to maintaining excellence in our local schools. Our dedication to education is unwavering, reflective of our deep understanding of its fundamental role in the community's prosperity and well-being, and our longstanding commitment to provide the resources that keep our teachers among the highest paid in North Carolina.
 
North Carolina general statutes and the state’s constitution dictate that it is the state’s responsibility to fund instructional and operational expenses, while county governments are responsible for the cost of capital expenditures like construction and maintenance of school facilities and athletic facilities.
 
To that end, since 2006, New Hanover County has committed over $273 million toward capital costs for the public schools and has allocated another $40+ million in total annual appropriations to the schools for capital purposes. Porter’s Neck Elementary, Castle Hayne Elementary and Holly Shelter Middle are just a few examples of schools built with funds raised by the county.
 
Additionally, the Board of County Commissioners, by choice and not by legislative directive, annually appropriates a significant amount of local revenues to provide funding to supplement the state’s operating funding allocation.
 
In fiscal year 2024, New Hanover County appropriated $94.0 million in operational support for the county schools. This amounted to approximately $3,434 per student and ranked the county seventh out of all 100 counties in North Carolina in operational support according to the most recent data. This is greater than the amounts appropriated for students in Brunswick, Pender and Wake.  
 
Furthermore, the county’s contributions extend beyond basic operational and capital funding. In fiscal year 2024, the county is investing in several vital programs including $1.9 million for pre-K classes; $2.1 million for school nurses, ensuring nursing coverage at all schools; $3.5 million for mental health therapists in elementary and middle schools; and $4.1 million for school resource officers at all public schools. An additional $1.3 million is allocated for community resource coordinators, and almost $1.9 million for violence reduction programs.
 
In total, we are allocating approximately $140 million of local, county revenues to our public schools this year, which equates to $5,229 per student based on current enrollment numbers. As a matter of context, we achieve this significant funding with a tax rate that is affordable to all taxpayers – 45 cents per $100 of value, which is the 16th-lowest in the state and is, in fact, the lowest of any of the most populated counties in the state. For comparison, the average property tax rate in the 100 counties in North Carolina is $0.64 per $100 of valuation.
 
As stewards of taxpayer funds, we are tasked with the careful balancing of ambitious educational support, prudent fiscal management, and setting revenue rates that ensure all earners can afford to live in New Hanover County. We recognize that our decisions directly impact not only the current generation of students but also the long-term viability of our educational system. We are proud of the commitment we make.  
 
While resolute in our efforts, we must also acknowledge the limitations in the scope and extent of our board’s capabilities and responsibilities. The constitution of this great state charges the state to fund a high-quality public education. We enhanced that with $140 million of local taxes this past year.
 
We understand the gravity of the Board of Education’s budgetary constraints brought about largely by expiring federal grants, and financial decisions made by the NHC Board of Education, but our goal remains to secure the best possible educational outcomes within our means, ensuring that our decisions are both fiscally responsible and educationally sound. This delicate balance is crucial for the sustained success and advancement of our educational system in New Hanover County.
 
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners is made up of five elected commissioners.
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