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Chris Needham, Eric Houck win awards for their education finance research

Chris Needham, dressed in a blue shirt, dark jacket, stading in front of foliage

Doctoral student Chris Needham was the lead author on the paper that won the Article of the Year Award from the Journal of Education Finance.

Doctoral student Chris Needham and faculty member Eric Houck have been named winners of the Journal of Education Finance Article of the Year Award. Needham also was named winner of a research award from the National Education Finance Academy.

Both awards were announced at the NEFA’s annual meeting in April.

Needham and Houck won the award for their article “The Inequities of Special Education Funding in North Carolina,” published in the journal in its summer 2019 issue.

Needham, the lead author on the paper, is a doctoral student in the Policy, Leadership and School Improvement (PLS) strand of the School of Education’s Ph.D. program. Houck, associate professor in the PLS and Educational Leadership programs, is an authority on school finance, conducting research on the inequities created by educational finance systems.

Needham’s research project, which was supported by the School of Education’s James Yadkin Joyner Fellowship, also won a UNC Impact Award from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Graduate School in 2019.

In the article, Needham and Houck described research into how funding for students with special needs is allocated in North Carolina. Their work examined the effects of a funding cap implemented in 1980 that was intended to dis-incentivize over-representation of students with special needs by school districts.

Using data from 2005 through 2017, their research found that an average of 62% of North Carolina districts were underfunded by the state each year, leaving local school districts to fill the funding gaps. Because the majority of North Carolina’s local education funding relies on county property taxes, the effect of the cap magnified educational spending inequities as lower-income districts had fewer resources to close the funding gaps.

The article also described that approximately half of U.S. states have some form of restriction on the amount of special education funding a district can receive.

A report by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education called for eliminating the cap, a suggestion included in a judicial consent decree issued last fall that calls for changes to the way North Carolina funds education.

Needham wins research award

Additionally, Needham was named winner of the NEFA’s William and Patricia Fowler Award. The award supports promising graduate students focused on applied research for the improvement of education finance and budgeting practice.

Needham, a native of England, came to the United States to earn a master’s degree in special education from Appalachian State University. He taught for 10 years as a special education and mathematics teacher before coming to Carolina to begin work on a doctoral degree.

He plans to conduct dissertation research on special education funding, focusing on the issues balancing equity, efficiency and adequacy and how various factors influence perceived funding needs.