||This Report examines the question: “What policies should the Center for Civil Rights
promote in order to assist rural North Carolina school districts with declining student
enrollment?” North Carolina has several school districts experiencing declining enrollment,
and these districts are predominately low-wealth, rural districts concentrated in
the northeastern part of the state. Since 1980, 24 North Carolina school districts
have had enrollment declines greater than 20%. Three districts—Halifax County, Northampton
County, and Hyde County—have had declines greater than 40%. These trends have direct
policy implications for affected school districts. Reliance on per-pupil state funding
leads to necessary budget cuts and difficult decisions regarding district resources.
There are more specific impacts on school size, transportation demands, and curriculum—due
to the funding losses and related factors (such as possible school consolidation).
This Report utilizes the available state-level education data and census data to describe
the effects of declining enrollment. These data define the scope of the problem and
help determine correlations between declining enrollment and other issues, such as
low student achievement outcomes and system-wide economic difficulties. The Report
also performs a case study of eights specific school districts: four with declining
enrollment, two constant districts, and two growing districts.
With this descriptive framework in place, the Report examines seven policy options
that may help address the problems associated with declining student enrollment in
rural North Carolina school districts:
1. Alter state funding formulas to delay the effects of year-to-year drops in funding.
2. Provide supplemental state funding for districts experiencing significant declines
in student enrollment.
3. Provide for greater use of technology in affected districts.
4. Promote partnerships between affected school districts and other community institutions,
including local businesses and community colleges.
5. Establish inter-district resource partnerships.
6. Establish inter-district enrollment arrangements.
7. Consolidate districts where multiple school districts exist in one county.
These options are weighed against the criteria of (1) impact on student achievement,
(2) cost, and (3) political feasibility. Information from the available education
literature, budget information, and practices employed in other states aid this analysis.
The Report also uses interview data, particularly from education officials in the
four rural school districts of Halifax County, Northampton County, Weldon City, and
Hertford County. In the end, this Report recommends that the Center for Civil Rights
should advocate for greater use of technology, community partnerships, inter-district
resource partnerships, and consolidation of the three Halifax County school districts.
Once the state budget situation improves, the Center should promote adoption of a
state supplemental fund for districts facing severe declines in enrollment. This
fund should be administered in a “grant-like” fashion, providing incentive-based funding
as needed for particular policies and programs.