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Judge's order fast-tracks Leandro remedy for education opportunity
NC has 2 months to develop plan for schools
Published Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:09 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Superior Court Judge David Lee wants North Carolina to provide a plan to provide equal education opportunities for North Carolina students within 60 days. Lee's order found that low-income schools were harmed by decades of underfunding by the state. The cost of developing remedies that comply with the state constitution is estimated to reach $8 billion.

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The clock is ticking for North Carolina to “expeditiously and without delay” develop equal education opportunities for at-risk students and high-poverty schools.

Tuesday’s consent order issued by Superior Court Judge David Lee is part of the long-running Leandro lawsuit that constitutionally guarantees the state provide all students a sound basic education. Lee found that low-income schools – particularly those with higher concentrations of black students – were harmed by decades of state underfunding in violation of North Carolina law. A 1997 state Supreme Court ruling affirmed the state constitution guarantee of “a right to a sound basic education.”

“I trust that everyone is on the same page in terms of the needs that we have in this state to be Leandro-compliant,” Lee said. “I know that there are different paths that different people believe are appropriate to take to achieve that goal, but I want us to move forward in a structured way."

On Thursday, the Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education adopted its final report, which found early childhood education, teacher pay, expanding the NC Teaching Fellows and changing the system of grading schools based on performance are among the priorities. Funding Leandro-compliant initiatives could cost an estimated $8 billion.

The commission’s findings also mirrored a report by WestEd, a research, development and service agency whose report on state education funding was cited by Lee in his order, that found state education funding lacking.

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“This order marks the beginning of a new era in the long-running Leandro litigation that constitutionally guarantees all North Carolina children the right to the opportunity to receive a sound basic education, following decades of neglect after the state’s retreat from fulfilling its obligation to educate its children,” North Carolina Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier and Education & Law Project Director Matt Ellinwood wrote in a joint statement.

Using the findings of an expert report submitted last month, Lee found the state’s lack of financial support resulted in inequities forced onto at-risk and poor students, especially blacks and Latinos. The state is required to report on its progress within 60 days.

The state's plan must address:

• Recruitment and development of teachers that ensures each classroom has a high-quality instructor who has early and ongoing professional learning and competitive pay;

• Development and recruitment of principals with professional development and competitive compensation;

• Adequate, equitable, and predictable funding to address the needs of all schools and students, especially at-risk-students as defined by the Leandro decisions;

• Accountability that can be consistently measured by Leandro’s standard,

• Support to low-performing schools;

• Access to early education for poor children, and

• Align high school to college and career expectations to match student preparedness.

“It is the State’s duty to implement the fiscal, programmatic, and strategic steps necessary to ensure these seven components in place, and, ultimately, to achieve the outcomes for students required by the Constitution,” Lee's order read.

The parties must now to set out the specific actions that state defendants will implement in 2020 to address the identified constitutional deficiencies, mid-range actions to be implemented to ensure continued action, and a date by which the state will submit a comprehensive remedial plan to provide all public school children with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

“The Justice Center applauds the work of Judge Lee and the parties in breathing new life into the Leandro standard after years of the state failing to meet its constitutional obligations to children,” Glazier and Ellinwood wrote. “The recommendations in the WestEd report and the requirements of this consent agreement are clear: it is up to state policymakers to meet their obligation and implement meaningful reforms in the 2020 legislative session.”


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