News: Quick Takes

Study committee doesn’t recommend splitting up large school districts

Lawmakers aren’t likely to split up North Carolina’s largest school districts any time soon.

The Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units briefly met Wednesday, April 11, to unanimously approve a draft report documenting its findings.

The draft report didn’t recommend breaking up large districts, such as Wake County or Charlotte Mecklenburg schools. Each county serves more than 100,000 students, significantly more than any other district in the state.

“There was not a clear connection between the size of the LEA and the performance of the schools,” Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg and co-chair of the study committee, said.

Previous meetings covered insurance, transportation, school nutrition, information technology, and legal implications of breaking up large districts. Researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill presented scholarly literature on deconsolidation. Their findings offered little guidance.

“The data was really all over the map,” Brawley said. “There does seem to be a strong inference that smaller schools do better than large schools.”

Brawley said more studies are needed, and the same goes for the size of school districts. There wasn’t enough time to responsibly craft a procedure for deconsolidation, he said.

The study committee decided any plan to break up large districts should take care to ensure equality of buildings, programs, and teacher quality.

“This was not a trivial exercise,” Brawley said of the study committee.

Drastic changes to the size and structure of school districts may not be the only way to improve student performance. A previous committee meeting highlighted some innovative programs already operating across the state, from ProjectLIFT in CMS to Advance Academy in Vance County. Brawley said those programs are customizing educational offerings to meet students where they live.

The committee identified other points to consider, including consolidating non-educational services in smaller districts. Insurance coverage, transportation, maintenance, and nutritional programs have a higher cost per student in smaller school districts. Consolidating those services may improve cost and efficiency, but the committee suggested reviewing past studies on the matter.

Another takeaway revolved around funding for the Exceptional Children program, which is capped at 12.75 percent. Sixty school districts exceed the cap. The draft report suggests sharing that information with other education committees.