Thursday, July 21, 2011

Funding Public Education in North Carolina During the Depression, 1937

Steady progress in the 20th century, as evidenced by increased expenditures, better trained teachers, longer school terms, rural consolidation, and other improvements, continued until the economic depression of the early 1930s.
State appropriations for the public schools in North Carolina were not reduced between 1931 and 1933 despite the fact that collections of State revenue during this period fell $22,000,000 below the budget estimates and county, city, and town revenue collections decreased in almost the same proportion….
By January 1933, however, it became apparent that, though State aid for the schools should continue undiminished or even be increased, many schools would be forced to close as a result of the inability of counties, cities, and towns to collect the school taxes levied on property. The general assembly therefore enacted a law providing a statewide eight-months school term as the minimum for rural as well as city schools, and decreed that this term should be entirely supported from State revenues derived solely from indirect taxes. It then appropriated the amount needed to operate all the schools for the ensuing two years, thereby removing all taxes on property for school operating costs. The administrative units had to continue to provide for debt service, to provide the school buildings and equip them. Under the law, any unit that so desired could, by a vote of the people, levy supplementary school taxes on property to provide a ninth month, employ additional teachers, or supplement the State salary schedule. In order to provide the appropriation of $16,000,000 a year for the maintenance of the eight-months school term, other State appropriations were drastically cut. The property tax load of the various subdivisions was reduced to the extent of about $20,000,000 a year.
North Carolina is one of only two States with a State-supported and State-administered uniform school system, the other being the State of Delaware. Unusual economies in the cost of administration and operation have been brought about without any material sacrifice in teaching service. There has been a steady increase in the training and certification of teachers.
There are more than 24,000 teachers in the State school system, whose salaries aggregate more than $20,000,000 a year. Some 74 percent of the more than 17,000 white teachers and 43 percent of the 7,000 or more Negro teachers are college graduates and hold Grade A certificates. In 1922 only 17 percent of the white teachers and 3 percent of the Negro teachers were college graduates. ….
North Carolina transports more children to and from school every day than any other State in the United States. For 160 days of each year, a fleet of 4,200 buses transports 306,000 school children at a cost of $7.42 per child per year—the lowest net cost in the nation. These 4,200 school buses travel an average of 150,000 miles a day over some 35,000 miles of state and county highways.
Some one-room schoolhouses are still left in the state, especially in the mountains, where consolidation is difficult because of geographical conditions as well as bad weather during the winter months. …. Vocational education is stressed in the consolidated schools. Home economics and agriculture courses are offered in most of the rural high schools, virtually all of which are consolidated schools.
Approximately 830,000 children are (1939) enrolled in the public school system of which 665,000 are in the elementary grades and 165,000 in the high schools. The largest school for Indian children in North Carolina is at Cherokee, where 289 boarding and day students are enrolled. More than 200 Indian children attend day schools at Big Cove, Birdtown, Snowbird, and Soco.
There are 918 high schools in North Carolina, of which 733 are for white children and 185 for Negroes. Approximately 135,000 are enrolled in the high schools for white children and about 30,000 in high schools for Negroes. Marked progress has been made in the schools for Negroes, especially in the high schools. Negroes comprise 29.73 percent of the total school population in North Carolina.
The University of North Carolina, consisting of the university at Chapel Hill (3,500), the agricultural and engineering college at Raleigh (2,215) and the woman’s college at Greensboro (1,697), has a significant place in the cultural life of the South. State-supported institutions include also East Carolina Teachers College at Greenville, the Western Carolina Teachers College at Cullowhee, and three other standard normal schools for white students; the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College at Greensboro and four standard normal schools for Negroes; and the Cherokee Indian Normal School at Pembroke in Robeson County.
And Before the Depression
Many private academies had been established in the State by the middle of the 19th century. Even in the latter part of the century, it was commonly believed that the constitutional provision for schools could best be fulfilled by subsidizing the academies. This idea slowly gave way to the belief in publicly supported schools for all people.

On the night of April 4, 1912, a large audience had gathered in Birmingham, Alabama, to hear Charles B. Aycock, former Governor of North Carolina and widely known as the “educational governor.” The subject of Aycock’s speech was “Universal Education.” After he had talked for a few minutes, amidst enthusiastic applause, Aycock spoke the words: “I always talked about education--.” Here he stopped, threw up his hands, reeled backward, and fell dead.
This dramatic event was the climax of a long and fruitful effort on behalf of public schools. In the 10 years following Aycock’s term as Governor, public school expenditures and property values in North Carolina increased threefold, the average salary of teachers was increased 50 percent, 3,500 more teachers were employed, and 3,000 additional schools were opened for use.
Much of the credit for this development belongs to Aycock. But he had in his time the support of Edwin A. Alderman, James Y. Joyner, Charles D. McIver, and other able educators….
North Carolina wrote into its first constitution its intention of having a public school system and one or more centers of higher learning. A bill for the establishment of free schools was introduced in the Colonial assembly as early as 1749 and again in 1752, but was defeated. In 1754 money was appropriated for building and endowing a school, but the money was diverted to other uses.
Milestones in the State’s educational progress were Archibald D. Murphey’s report to the legislature in 1817; the establishment of the “literary fund” in 1825; the passage of a public school law in 1839; the work of Calvin H. Wiley, first State Superintendent of Schools (1853-65); the statewide canvass by Charles D. McIver and Edwin A. Alderman as institute conductors in 1890-1903; and the gubernatorial campaign of Charles B. Aycock in 1900.
From North Carolina: a guide to the Old North State, a Federal Writers’ Project book, published in 1937 by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The book is available online at:

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