When the $900 million in annual tax cuts the legislature passed this session are fully implemented, North Carolina Republicans will have succeeded in slashing $3.5 billion a year from the state's coffers—almost 40 percent of the relatively low (compared to other states) amount it dedicates to schools. To make up for what the state lacks, local governments—particularly urban counties such as Wake—have raised taxes to better fund schools.
The budget the legislature passed last month ups the state's education funding from the current $8.7 billion to about $9.4 billion in the 2019-20 school year. Assuming North Carolina doesn't add to the 1.54 million students it had in 2015-16, the last year for which the Department of Public Instruction has data—an unlikely assumption—that's a roughly $450 bump per student.
But that's not enough to appease critics. Governor Cooper called the budget "shortsighted and small-minded" when he announced his veto, which was quickly overridden. Progressives (and most major editorial boards) across the state denounced the GOP budget on similar grounds, arguing that it shortchanges students while enriching the wealthy. The Republican line, espoused by Senate leader Phil Berger, is that the budget will "dramatically increase teacher pay and improve public education outcomes" and continues improvements Republicans have made in recent years.
So who's right? The best measurement of funding, and increases thereof, isn't raw numbers, but rather per-pupil spending adjusted for inflation. Fortunately, the good folks at N.C. Policy Watch have calculated just that, charting out inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending from 2005-06 to 2016-17.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, spending spiked just before the Great Recession took hold, cratered, and has slowly started to tick up as the economy recovered. But even with the extra money added this year, the per-pupil amount still won't rebound to its pre-Recession peak.