School Law Bulletin #2006/02

State and Local Government Relations in Elementary and Secondary Education

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Education, one of government’s most important responsibilities, is both the foundation for a viable democratic society and a service the state is obligated to foster and protect. The North Carolina Constitution provides that “[r]eligion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and
the means of education shall forever be encouraged” (Article IX, Section 1). The constitution also states: “The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right” (Article I, Section 15). To carry out these constitutional mandates, the state of North Carolina maintains a system of elementary and secondary schools, a system of fifty eight community colleges, and the University of North Carolina, which is comprised of sixteen institutions of higher education.

In 1839, the fi rst year that North Carolina’s public schools began to function as a statewide system, the General Assembly made $40 available to each school district that raised $20 locally. That was the legislature’s fi rst stab at dividing the fi scal burden of public education between the state and local governments. The struggle to fi nd a proper division while ensuring fairness in the fi nancial burden, equity in educational opportunities, and quality in education has continued for the ensuing 167 years and stands as one of the state’s liveliest political topics in 2006.

Today’s intricate division of responsibilities and control among state and county governments and local school administrative units is largely a result of cumulative efforts to resolve that struggle. Th is article traces those eff orts and describes current issues of fi nancial responsibility, equity, and education reform, especially the relationship between local boards of education and boards of county commissioners. Postsecondary education is not discussed in this article.

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Public Officials - Local and State Government Roles