Editorial: More than money, Leandro upholds N.C. Constitution's promise to our children

Posted December 13, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2020 1:52 p.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Friday, Dec. 13, 2019; Editorial #8490
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

While Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and leaders of the General Assembly crow about the support they’ve given to the state’s public schools, a report released by a state judge sings a very different song.

“We will continue to fight for increased teacher compensation and overall education funding,” Forest said this week in a campaign letter to the state’s public-school teachers.

Well, he and his colleagues in the legislature must be fighting with one arm tied behind their backs (and maybe their fingers are crossed).

Or, maybe they think the trial in still going on. While Phil Berger’s spokesman talked about all the money the legislature’s spent on public schools and attacked Gov. Roy Cooper, he missed the point.

The issue isn’t about money. It is about doing the right thing, honoring – adhering – to the state Constitution.

The rhetoric from legislative leaders is in stark contrast to the findings in a report released this week by State Superior Court Judge David Lee, who oversees implementation of the 1997 state Supreme Court ruling in the Leandro case. The high court ruled the state – particularly the legislature – failed to honor a fundamental right guaranteed in the North Carolina Constitution. That promise is to provide EVERY student with an opportunity for a sound basic education in public schools.

“As North Carolina educators prepare for the 2019-20 school year, the state is further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound basic education than it was when the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued the Leandro decisions more than 20 years ago,” according to the report. “there is inadequate funding to meet student needs.” The report was submitted to the judge in June and just released.

It is not about how much. It is about keeping a promise and doing what is required to achieve it.

“The state does not currently provide adequate resources to ensure that all students have the opportunity to meet higher standards and become college and career ready,” the report says.

As much as a statement of fact, it is an indictment of dereliction of duty.

“North Carolina’s per-pupil spending was the sixth-lowest in the nation. When adjusted to 2018 dollars, per-pupil spending in North Carolina had declined overall, about 6%, since 2009-10.”

The report paints a bleak picture of North Carolina’s public education landscape, where resources are diminished, and regulation increased.

  • “Constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs. … In 2010-11, allotments with substantial flexibility represented roughly three-quarters of K-12 state funding. By 2018-19, allotments with substantial flexibility represented only about one-fifth of K-12 funding.”
  • “School districts lack the funding necessary to meet the educational needs of historically underserved student populations.”
  • “Funding across districts is inequitable due to differences in local funding, differences in state funding received through Classroom Teacher allotment and differences in regional costs.”

Not only did the legislature, from 2008 through 2016, cut state funding. They made it more difficult for local schools to adjust so they could fit local needs and circumstances.

Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Forest -- Stop wasting time and creative energy in the quest to cherry-pick data and manipulate statistics to tell an inaccurate and phony political campaign tale of support for public schools. Stop breaking the law and violating the order of the state’s Supreme Court.

Read Judge Lee’s report. You can do that right here. Acknowledge its findings and embrace its recommendations. Fulfill your duty and uphold the state constitution’s promise to its people “to the privilege of education” and the “the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.”

NOTE: This editorial has been updated to fully show the years when state per-pupil was less than the 2008-2009 level, both in actual dollars and accounting for inflation.  

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