North Carolina's 2011 school report cards show Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has been losing ground on per-pupil spending compared with other N.C. districts , including its largest ones.
In 2006-07, with the economy thriving, CMS spent $8,118 per pupil, $95 above the state average. Last year it spent $7,994, about $400 below the state average. The state tally includes local, state and federal money to operate schools; it doesn't count construction and other capital costs (read details here).
CMS relies heavily on county taxpayers. In 2006-07, CMS' local money came to $2,517 per pupil, $568 above the state average. That put CMS ahead of Wake, Cumberland and Forsyth (Guilford County, the state's third-largest district after Wake and CMS, has consistently had higher per-pupil budgets than any of the five biggest districts.)
Last year CMS was down to $2,048 per student in local money -- $146 over the state average, but less than Guilford, Wake and Forsyth got. As anyone who has followed budget news knows, CMS took a big hit in county spending when the recession took hold. This year (which is not reflected in state report cards) Mecklenburg County commissioners approved a $26 million increase.
The link between spending and student achievement remains murky. Guilford, despite its consistently large budget ($8,820 in federal, state and local money last year) trailed CMS, Wake and state averages on high school test scores.
CMS saw its pass rates slip in 2011, but the report cards show it held onto a respectable position compared to other districts, especially at the high school level. For instance, the pass rate for CMS black and low-income high school students slipped from 77 percent in 2010 to 73 percent in 2011, but that compares with a 68 percent pass rate for the same groups in Wake and 63 percent in Guilford. Well over 90 percent of white and non-poor students in CMS and Wake passed the high school tests.
But one big conundrum remains. While CMS has made big strides in helping teens pass their state exams, it continues to trail most districts on getting them to graduate.