North Carolina: Does teacher sorting contribute to financial inequalities?

Children attend first day of in-person learning at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York at Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx, New York on September 9, 2020. Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York Michael J. Deegan and Principal Amy Rodriquez greet children and parents at entrance. (Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA)No Use UK. No Use Germany.

Prior research shows FRPL students have lower access to experienced and other qualified teachers, compared to non-FRPL students. These patterns holds in North Carolina, too. Since teachers are often paid on salary schedules that do not vary based on their school, these sorting patterns will lead to more dollars allocated to affluent settings, all else equal. Do teachers contribute to funding gaps in North Carolina?

resource and funding gap table


Within districts, FRPL students have lower access to experienced teachers while simultaneously receiving slightly higher allocations of teacher spending. The result is explained by compensatory staffing, where FRPL students are in schools with increased staffing ratios for teachers (see Table 1) and other instructional support staff (not shown). 

figure 1

Teacher and spending allocations show greater variance looking across district boundaries. North Carolina’s high-poverty schools receive consistently higher amounts of teacher funding; teacher spending is higher and similarly progressive in high schools (see Figure 1). High-poverty schools have higher shares of novice teachers, and higher teacher staffing ratios (see Figure 2).

figure 2

Approximately 87% of North Carolina’s schools, serving 90% of students, are in progressive teacher spending districts (see Figure 3 for an overview of spending progressivity in North Carolina’s districts). 


  1. North Carolina districts generally compensate FRPL students’ low access to experienced teachers with higher classroom staffing ratios; essentially quality for quantity. Yet, FRPL students should have many more teachers (smaller class sizes) to be fairly compensated for inexperienced teachers.
  2. The pandemic has accelerated problematic staffing challenges nationwide; thus, threatening the sustainability of this staffing exchange. The state should seek to build out the pipeline for qualified teachers and implement policies to ensure equitable access to quality teaching.


This analysis uses school-level financial data from the Edunomics Lab’s NERD$ database, paired with staffing data from the Civil Rights Data Collection and enrollment data from the Common Core of Data. FRPL is an acronym for eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch, our best proxy for low household income. North Carolina uses the 130% (free) and 185% (reduced) federal poverty household income thresholds to determine eligibility.

Continue reading Chapter 2: Does teacher sorting contribute to financial inequalities? →

Read the other case studies (IndianaLouisianaNevada, Massachusetts, and New York) →


  • Acknowledgements and disclosures

    The authors thank Adelle Patten for communications support. We also acknowledge generous financial support from the Gates Foundation in enabling the Brown Center to conduct this work.