RALEIGH, N.C. — For the first time since the court battle over the Leandro ruling started back in 1993, there is an actual plan on the table. Lawyers representing low-wealth schools say it is a good start, but they want things to move more quickly so that the General Assembly can take up the issue of where to get the money in its next session.
"We were very encouraged that it looks like the state is moving in the right direction," said attorney Bob Spearman, who is representing the low-wealth schools in the lawsuit. We were concerned this could drag on for a long time. We wanted the timetable to be faster."
In 2002, Judge Howard Manning ruled that every child in North Carolina has the constitutional right to a sound and basic education. In July 2004, the state Supreme Court affirmed the ruling.
It is estimated the plan will cost $220 million over 10 years. So far, Gov. Mike Easley has come up with $22 million, but the rest must come from the General Assembly.
"You don't have the money. I don't have the money. If Jones Street doesn't participate, then we've got a problem," Manning said.
Eleven school districts are already receiving part of the money. Five more are submitting plans and will receive the balance. While they appreciate every little bit, the small amount is not going to fix big problems like teacher turnover.
"You've got teachers in Wake County that make $7,000, $8,000, $10,000 more," said Larry Armstrong, of the Halifax County School Board. "They like living in Wake County and they're not going to give that up to come to Halifax County for another $1,000 or $2,000."
Many people said if you want to know what works, you should ask those who know -- teachers. Otherwise, the state could end up wasting money.
"You can put into place programs, resources, materials, spend a lot of money on them, but it may not have any impact on student learning," said Sheria Reid, of the North Carolina Justice Center.
One of the biggest debates is over the funding formula used to distribute the money. Schools with at-risk students get a lump sum based upon the total number of students who attend class on an average day. It is not based upon the number of at-risk kids in the school.
Another court hearing is set for Dec. 7.