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‘Highlights’ is out with answers to lots of your questions about the budget for public schools

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Each year, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) releases a report titled, “Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget.”

On the webpage, where the reports — from 2004 through 2024 — are posted, it says, “A report that presents charts and tables which describe how state and federal funds are distributed to North Carolina’s Public Schools.”

It’s so much more!

In the report, you can find out how many students, teachers, and schools we have; the maximum amount of money your superintendent can make; class size ratios; how many districts are considered low wealth or small; how much state money goes to each charter; who received Needs-Based Public School Construction Grants, and more.

Over the years it has grown from 37 to 58 pages, but I have always loved that it starts with, “Funding public education in North Carolina is a complex and integrated process.” Indeed.

When reporters, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, philanthropists, and other stakeholders ask EdNC for budget information, we often refer them to this report as a starting point.

As you look at the data, it is important to pay attention to the year of the data in the charts, which schools are included, and the sources of funding.

Here is the 2024 report, the 2023 report, and the 2004 report (because a 20-year comparison is always interesting).

Alexis Schauss, the chief financial officer for DPI, leads putting this report together. It must take countless hours, but it is a tremendous public service. Thank you.

A walk through the highlights

On p. 1 of the 2024 report, you can find the difference between a position, dollar, and categorical allotment. Remember, they said it was complex right up front.

Also on p. 1 are the quick facts you see referenced over and over again in our reporting and the work of others: number of students, number of schools, state funding, federal funding, the percent education makes up of the state’s general fund, and the number of teachers.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

Our education ecosystem loves acronyms. What does LEA and PSU stand for, and what’s the difference? On p. 2, you can find descriptions of all the different types of public schools in North Carolina. Understanding the difference is important when thinking about which schools the different charts include.

On p. 3, you can see how education as a percent of the state’s general fund has changed from 2009-10 through 2023-24.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

You can also see appropriations and average daily membership over time.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 4, you can see the percent of expenditures funded by federal, state, and local dollars with and without child nutrition included.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

You can also see how the funds were spent. When I give speeches, this quote from the report always gets people’s attention: “All of the 2022-23 state expenditures were attributed to salaries and benefits except for 7.06%.”

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 5, you can see the state-funded expenditures for LEAs (refer back to those definitions. but this doesn’t include charter, regional, or lab schools).

In 2022-23, $10,391,275,885 was spent.

Of that, $6,683,332,078 is for salaries, including $4,042,393,676 for teachers.

Employee benefits cost $2,983,695,594.

Our public schools spend $356,787,572 on purchased services, which fuels local economies across the state.

Supplies and materials cost $333,414,268. This is where you can see that the state spends $30,031,341 on textbooks.

The remainder includes $31,828,288 for capital and $2,218,084 in other costs.

On p. 6, you can see how average daily membership has changed over time. We are careful when using this chart because often people interpret the pink bar to just be charters, and while it includes charters, it also includes lab schools, a regional school, and the now defunct innovative school district.

On p. 7, you can see average daily membership by district for 2023-24.

On p. 8, you can see the state appropriations for 2023-24.

On p. 9, you can see the allotment formulas for 2023-24, and this is an easy place to see the teacher-student ratios for each grade level used for this purpose.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 9, you can also see average salaries for principals, assistant principals, teachers, school health personnel, and others.

On p. 10, you can find weighted categorical allotments, and we get a lot of questions about these. For instance, you can find the allotments here for academically or intellectually gifted students, at-risk, children with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and small county supplemental funding. This page also includes information on budget flexibility for districts.

Coutesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 11, you can find weighted state funding levels. On p. 12, you can find weighted federal funding levels. On p. 13, you can find an illustration of weighted funding addressing different students needs.

Also on p. 13 is an explanation of why it is difficult to compare dollars per average daily membership:

Huge variance in the size of LEAs. ADM ranges from systems with an ADM of 449 to an ADM
of 160,160.

Certain fixed costs in LEAs such central office operations.

Less experienced teachers versus veteran teachers (experience levels).

Fixed salary schedules.

On p. 14, you can find class size maximums as well as more on state funded salary ranges.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 15, you can find out how many principals, teachers, and other educators we have, and this chart also shows you how many are paid out of state, federal, and local funds. Note that the report says, “Teachers, Teacher Assistants, and Instructional Support Personnel make up 76.12% of all personnel.”

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 15, you can also find this chart on the number of instructional support positions.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

Heads up teachers, on p. 16, you can find the history of compensation increases compared to other state employees as well as the Consumer Price Index since 2001-02.

On p. 17, there is a chart about average teacher compensation, and also this comparison of North Carolina v. the national average, which uses the NEA Annual Rankings and Estimates.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On p. 18, you can find information about National Board Certified Teachers. Note there is a difference we don’t understand between the numbers released by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NCPTS) —  24,243 certified teachers — and the numbers in this report.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On pp. 19-22, you can find information on funding for counties that are low wealth. And on pp. 23-25, you can find information on small county supplemental funding.

On pp. 26-34, there is information on independent public school units, which includes charter, lab, and regional schools.

On p. 30, you can see since 1996-97, how many charter schools have been approved, opened, and closed, along with the total in operation.

Courtesy of N.C. DPI

On pp. 30-34, you can see the number of charter schools in each county, you can see the average daily membership of each charter school, and you can find the total state funding for each charter school.

On p. 35-44, there is lots of information about federal funding and expenditures.

On pp. 45-48, there is information about the pandemic relief funds.

On p. 50, you can lottery revenue v. allocations. On p. 51, you can see the Needs-Based Public School Construction Grants in 2021-22, 2022-23, and 2023-24. On p. 52, you can see lottery funding by year since 2007-08. On p. 53, you can see lottery revenue distributions for 2022-23.

On p. 54, there is information about the North Carolina School Connectivity Initiative.

Other resources

In-depth, exportable data can be found in the North Carolina Public Schools Statistical Profile.

And here is OSBM’s certified budget for education for 2023-25.

Please let us know what you learn, what you find interesting, and what surprises you. Email me at mrash at

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.