This week the N.C. State Board of Education sent a letter to the Halifax County Board of Education declaring that state education officials “will take a more direct role in the district’s budget, employment decisions, and student course assignment decisions effective immediately.”

How is it possible that a district that spent over $11,000 per student in 2013-14, the 14th-highest per-pupil expenditure in the state, could be such a failure?

The state board’s decision to intervene in the affairs of Halifax County Schools is hardly surprising. Decades of mismanagement and dysfunction have led to high teacher turnover rates and appalling student achievement outcomes.

Over the last three school years, one-third of Halifax teachers have either left their school or the profession, far above state average turnover rates. In addition, just over one-third of the district’s third-graders read at grade level in 2014 compared to a statewide average of 60 percent.

And the third-grade scores are the bright spot compared to eighth-grade reading scores. Only one in five Halifax eighth-graders are proficient in reading, while over half of North Carolina students meet this mark.

Of course, the state’s decision to assume administrative oversight over the district leads to a number of key questions: Is it a good idea for folks in Raleigh to call the shots? Will their efforts increase student achievement and decrease turnover? Would a proven charter school management organization be a more effective overseer than the state?

(While we’re at it, why don’t struggling public charter schools receive this kind of assistance from state education officials? Isn’t intervention preferable to charter school closure? Geez, people, charter schools are public schools, too!)

The most pertinent question, however, is why Halifax’s relatively sizable per pupil expenditure does not produce comparable levels of student performance.

For the last five years, liberals have complained, repeatedly and creatively, that Republican legislators have failed to fund public schools adequately. The left is convinced that, despite annual increases in state education appropriations, conservatives have hatched a fiendish plot to “destroy” and “dismantle” and “starve” the state’s $14 billion public school system.

They catalog long lists of offenses — the expansion of school choice, purging of ineffective programs, elimination of inefficient expenditures, abolition of longstanding regulations and practices, etc. But Republicans’ biggest offense of all, liberals say, is “underfunding” public schools, i.e., not satisfying their insatiable desire for more taxpayer money.

What, then, to make of Halifax County Schools? Last year, Halifax County spent $11,021 per student, which is reasonably close to the national average expenditure estimated by the National Education Association for the 2013-14 school year, $11,355 per student in fall enrollment, and far above North Carolina’s $8,477 per-student average.

According to the logic of the left, Halifax schools should be thriving. Instead, the state is preparing to assume partial control of district operations.

Some will argue that Halifax’s trouble is poverty. Indeed, it is no secret that the district sits in one of the most impoverished regions of the state. The problem with that argument is that nearby Gaston College Preparatory, a charter school that has served the area since 2001, spends $1,500 per student less than Halifax but produces considerably higher test scores than the district and sometimes the state.

Even more impressive is that 100 percent of Gaston’s seniors have earned acceptance letters to four-year universities and colleges since 2009. That is one reason why nearly 20 percent of all public school students in Halifax County choose to attend charter schools such as Gaston Prep.

Indeed, I suspect that it does not matter how much Halifax County Schools spends (as it is constituted currently). Doubling the district’s per-pupil expenditure would likely do little to raise student achievement. It is how they spend and govern their resources that matters most. And that principle is true in Halifax County and every other school district in the state.

Dr. Terry Stoops (@TerryStoops) is Director of Research and Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation.