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RPIC Policy Agenda – Improve Educational Attainment and Outcomes

While educational attainment has risen significantly in the last two decades, we continue to see a huge disparity in post-secondary education by race and ethnicity. White 25- to 29-year-olds are 55% more likely than Black counterparts to have completed a bachelor’s degrees or higher.[i] And Black high school students are 13 percent less likely to graduate than their white peers.[ii] One of the most robust predictors of a child’s academic success and earning power is whether they can read by third grade.[iii] In North Carolina two out of five children do not read at grade level at the end of third grade. There are clear racial disparities with 41% of Black third graders reading at grade level compared to 70% of white children.[iv]

According to education researchers, Barbara Bowman, James Comer, and David Johns (2018), “The interface between racism/classism and attendant economic and social disadvantages is the key to understanding the underachievement of African American children. African Americans have been exposed to generations of legal and illegal measures to deny them basic rights.”[v] Resource equity is an underlying issue: “school districts attended predominantly by students of color receive $23 billion less in funding than primarily white districts, despite serving the same number of students. And school districts that are poor and white receive about $150 less per student than the national average. In contrast, school districts that are poor and attended primarily by students of color receive $1,600 less.”[vi] In a recent study, Is School Funding Fair, researchers at the Education Law Center compared state funding of schools across all 50 states finding that most states provide disproportionately more economic resources to affluent schools than to those in high poverty areas.[vii]

Several other factors are related to the lack of progress in achieving parity in educational attainment and standardized scores. For poor urban youth, there is evidence that disengagement in school is a major cause of absenteeism and low graduation rates.[viii] Also, there is data to support the claim that “a growing disparity in teacher quality across the social divide may have offset the impacts of policies designed to work in the opposite direction.”[ix] Finally, confounding the issue is the fact that parental education strongest predictor of student achievement.[x]

It has been argued that high quality universal pre-K could “significantly reduce the financial burden facing families with young children and help ensure that children are prepared for kindergarten.”[xi] Early education and school readiness have been proven to be effective in helping to close the achievement gap by preparing children for educational success.[xii] It also helps with reducing poverty in households with children by reducing the cost-burden of families due to childcare expenses. Childcare in North Carolina is prohibitively expensive, according to the Care Index[xiii] in-home care in NC averages $27,251/yr and in-center care averages $8,643/yr. As a result of COVID19 closures of childcare facilities and schools, we see even further disparities in achievement on standardized testing scores and greater need for intervention around this topic.

Download the printable Research, Policy, and Impact Agenda Part 4 Improve Educational Attainment and Outcomes

Solution #1: Support universal high-quality childcare and pre-K programs

Reform(s) Needed:

  1. Expand funding to Head Start and Early Head Start Programs.
  2. Expanding the availability of childcare subsidy assistance.
  3. Reestablish Advance Child Tax Credit Payments to LMI families.

Solution #2: Increase school quality in LMI communities

Reform(s) Needed:

  1. Changing state school funding formulas to increase funding to underserved communities.
  2. Support, train, and pay teachers like other professionals.
  3. Fund school infrastructure in LMI communities.
  4. Expand teacher training and education loan forgiveness programs.
  5. Providing funding and scholarships for teaching degree programs that have a proven track record of attracting and graduating minority teachers.

Solution #3: Expand degree attainment, credentialing, and training opportunities minority students

Reform(s) Needed:

  1. Combat school absenteeism and disengagement.
  2. Promote project- and problem-based learning opportunities.
  3. Expand support for paid externships and ‘on-the-job’ training programs linked to industry.
  4. Provide debt-free higher education and community college programs.
  5. Support student loan debt forgiveness for LMI populations.
  6. Reinstate NC income tax deductions for contributions to NC 529 accounts.

[i] Hanson, Melanie. (2021). “Education Attainment Statistics”

[ii] Stemm-Calderon, Zoë. (2019) Why Education Reform Must Prioritize Resource Equity Raikes Foundation.

[iii] Fiester, Leila. (2010). Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. Annie E. Casey Foundation.

[iv] NC Child 2021 County Data Cards.

[v] Bowman, B. T., Comer, J. P., & Johns, D. J. (2018). “Addressing the African American Achievement Gap: Three Leading Educators Issue a Call to Action.” Young Children. 73(2), 14–23.

[vi] Stemm-Calderon, Zoë. (2019)

[vii] Baker, B., Farrie, D., Sciarra, D. (2018). Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card Education Law Center

[viii] Mac Iver, D. (2019). Five Successful Reforms to Combat Students’ Absenteeism and Disengagement. John Hopkins School of Education.

[ix] Hanushek, E.A., Peterson, P.E., Talpey, L.M., and Woessmann, L. (2019). “The Achievement Gap Fails to Close: Half century of testing shows persistent divide between haves and have-nots.” Education Next. 19(3), 8-17.

[x] Hanushek, E.A., Peterson, P.E., Talpey, L.M., and Woessmann, L. (2019).

[xi] Lieberman, A. (2022). “Policy Recommendations: Universal Pre-K.” New America.

[xii] First Five Years Fund. (2022). “Why It Matters: School Readiness.”

[xiii] See

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Win for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

North Carolina House Representative Alma Adams has won an important victory for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by incorporating her bill, the HBCU Capital Finance Debt Relief Act, in the 2021 Omnibus Spending Act which was signed into law on December 27th 2021. Representative Adams chairs the bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus, which she co-founded in 2015. Her legislation will discharge $1.34 billion in loans to HBCU’s across the country accrued under the HBCU Capital Loan Financing Program. The relief will be a boon for HBCUs which have historically been underfunded.

To give an idea of how much this bill will help, the total endowments for all of the United States HBCUs is $2.1 billion, by comparison UNC Chapel Hill has the 29th largest endowment for colleges and Universities in the United States of 3.7 billion. The relief represents over half of HBCUs’ total endowments and will help alleviate some of the disparities between HBCUs and comparable Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). According to a 2018 study by the Government Accountability Office HBCUs have a median endowment of $15,000 per student compared with matched non-HBCU schools that had a median endowment of $410,000 per student.

HBCUs help drive the economic development of the United States. According to a study by UNCF HBCUs generate $14.8 billion in economic impact annually.  Investment in HBCUs provides an excellent return on investment in which for each dollar of initial spending generates $1.44 dollars in subsequent spending for the regional economies in which they reside. Since HBCUs are often located in economically struggling regions, the health and wealth these institutions provide are often essential to the economic wellbeing of the locations they reside in.   Representative Adam’s bill also expands Pell grant eligibility, which will help all college students but particularly those that attend HBCUs. Over 75% of HBCU undergraduate students rely on Pell grants to pay for college expenses, compared to 39.1 of all US undergraduate students who use Pell grants to fund their education. Representative Adam’s bill expands the number of people eligible to receive aid and increases the maximum grant amount. The bill will help HBCUs and their students to continue to help grow and expand the economies in their surrounding communities.