[News item: Yesterday, the state defendants in the long running Leandro school finance case submitted a comprehensive plan to Judge David Lee that details how North Carolina proposes, at long last, to comply with the state Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling that every student in the state has a constitutional right to a “sound basic education.”
As lawyers for the state of North Carolina note in the document:
The Parties agree that the actions outlined in this Plan are the necessary and appropriate actions needed to address the constitutional violations in providing the opportunity for a sound basic education to all children in North Carolina. The State commits to meeting these actions under the time frames set forth herein.”
This morning, in response to the release of the plan, Every Child NC – a coalition of education reform advocates that includes the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch), released the following statement (as well as a video message from Letha Muhammad, co-Director of the Education Justice Alliance), encouraging lawmakers to incorporate the plan into the state’s upcoming budget]:
F or decades, state leaders of both parties have failed to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide every child with access to a sound basic education. Over the years, students and families have been given a litany of excuses for this legislative inaction. One of the primary excuses has been that legislators did not know exactly which investments and policy changes were necessary to ensure a constitutionally compliant education system.
With today’s publication of the long-term Leandro plan, those excuses for inaction expire. We now know with expert authority, year-by-year, exactly which investments and policy changes must be enacted to ensure all students have access to a sound basic education by 2028.
The plan’s goals are strong, calling for investments and new programs that will support the performance of all students across the state. The plan reverses the past decade’s budget reductions that, in the words of the WestEd Report, moved the state “further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound basic education than it was…more than 20 years ago.”
The plan is fundamentally equitable. Additional funding for students with disabilities, English learners, low wealth districts, and disadvantaged students will better allow schools to unleash the full potential of students who have historically paid the biggest cost for the state’s unwillingness to adequately support its schools. Investment in early learning opportunities will ensure that all students enter kindergarten ready to thrive. New programs and supports will permit all schools, not just wealthy ones, to take a more holistic approach to meeting students’ needs. Finally, the plan moves the state away from a biased and outdated accountability system that penalizes and stigmatizes schools based on student demographics.
The plan is also readily affordable. According to research from the Education Law Center, North Carolina’s school funding effort – the amount we spend in relation to the size of our economy – fell dramatically over the past decade and now ranks 49th nationally. The plan can easily be funded if North Carolina’s leaders increase this effort by prioritizing their constitutional obligations to students over tax cuts benefiting corporations and the wealthy. Further, lawmakers must understand that Leandro funding is intended to address longstanding funding disparities that predates COVID-19. Federal relief funding is intended to address immediate needs school districts face because of the pandemic, and cannot be relied upon as a cure-all for more chronic issues.
While we are excited to finally have a detailed, long-term plan that will materially address the state’s debt to our students, we now need decisive action to ensure the plan is fully implemented. Accordingly, we call on our state lawmakers to take the following steps to ensure our students finally receive the education they are owed:
- The Governor must now act to fully incorporate this plan into his recommended budget for the 2021-23 biennium. It is the Governor’s responsibility to show the General Assembly that the plan is feasible and should be funded.
- The General Assembly must honor their oath to the Constitution of the State of North Carolina and fully implement this plan. It is important to remember that all elements of the plan are necessary to deliver our students what they are owed. We encourage the General Assembly to act with even greater urgency than what is outlined under this plan. WestEd recommended that legislators increase education funding this biennium by $2.4 billion, a much more rapid near-term increase than what is considered under this plan. A more aggressive implementation will provide the necessary foundation to ensure student success this decade.
- Judge Lee should ensure that stakeholders representing the underserved and vulnerable student groups who have paid the biggest price for our state’s failures under Leandro have a role in monitoring the state’s progress towards meeting its Leandro goals and making any revisions to the plan in future years.
Our statewide coalition, led by community members, parents, students, and grassroots policy advocates representing over 40 organizations, will continue working until all North Carolina students receive the education they are owed under our constitution. We stand ready to assist the state in meeting its obligation to students who are counting on lawmakers to demonstrate the leadership that this moment requires.
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