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Perspective | A roadmap for targeted investment

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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the December 16, 2023 episode about the Public School Forum’s 2023 Roadmap of Need.

The Public School Forum’s Roadmap of Need was first published in 2010 by the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs to inform policymakers, funders and citizens of needed investments on a county basis.

From its inception, the main focus of the roadmap has been preventive care including afterschool programs, health care, and job programs, all of which can have major impacts on the success of a community’s youth. The first roadmap used 10 indicators to assess need in these areas.

Thirteen years later, the 2023 roadmap was created using 20 indicators across five domains: economic development, physical health, mental health and safety, education inputs, and education outcomes.

The Forum team believes these five domains capture the interconnected conditions and resources that are necessary for a child to succeed, both inside and outside of the classroom. The roadmap now strives to be a whole child needs assessment, which is critical to understanding what is needed for each child to have in order to thrive in school and in life.

In addition to expanding the roadmap’s considerations, the target audience has also been expanded as the roadmap has proven to be a key resource for policymakers, school leaders, out-of-school-time providers, funders, nonprofits, families, and the public to identify and communicate about areas in need of targeted investment.

The roadmap allows each of these audiences to focus on the needs of their individual counties when making decisions about how to invest time and resources which can be crucial in a state where needs can vary drastically depending on the community. In North Carolina school funding is often heavily dependent on the local tax base, creating huge disparities in the resources available depending on the wealth of a school district’s community. This creates a cycle of inequitable funding in which those districts with the most need repeatedly have the least to work with. That cycle can be seen in many rural districts where the majority of our state’s students live and learn.

Arguments against investments in education and other similar areas are often based on the idea that blindly throwing money at issues won’t fix them. However, the roadmap gives us the necessary data to know where which investments would be the most beneficial. Equitable funding based on need is a crucial step in improving North Carolina’s public schools so that they can reach their full potential and prepare students to be successful, productive members of an ever-evolving world.

The future of our state is worth investing in, the futures of our communities are worth investing in, and the futures of our children are certainly worth investing in. When we have the information needed to make the necessary investments, the only thing left to do is act.

To see how your county ranked you can view the full 2023 Roadmap of Need at

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.