Editorial: New Leandro judge says state's still short-changing N.C. school kids

Posted March 23, 2018 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Friday, March 23, 2018; Editorial # 8281
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

“The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right … Knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

That is the law of the land in North Carolina. Every child MUST have the "opportunity to receive a sound basic education." It is a guarantee in the state Constitution. State government – the legislature in particular – is obligated to assure that opportunity is available in every corner of the state.

The reality, however, is very different.

Too many North Carolina children – thousands -- still do not have an opportunity to receive a sound basic education. The state – particularly the obstinate legislature -- is not coming close to fulfilling its mandate.

This isn’t an assessment from a consultant or a special interest group. It is the conclusion of Judge David Lee, the person charged with overseeing the state’s implementation of the landmark Leandro decision.

About a year ago Lee assumed oversight of the case from retired Judge Howard Manning.

But it was only earlier this month that Lee had an opportunity to, in sharp and clear words, offer his assessment on how much progress had been made in making sure every child in the state, in fact, did have the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”

In an order rejecting an effort by the State Board of Education to be freed from the obligations of Leandro, Lee was emphatic. (Read the full order here)

“There is an ongoing constitutional violation of every child’s right to receive the opportunity for a sound basic education,” Lee said in his March 7 order. “The court record is replete with evidence that the Leandro right continues to be denied to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina children.”

It is a damning repudiation of the state legislature’s bravado and boasting about supposed improvements in public school support and funding. Judge Lee sees through the cosmetics. He does not believe the legislature or executive branch (in this case the State Board of Education) is meeting its obligation.

In terms of assessing compliance, Lee says there’s hardly an area where there’s been improvement. “Hard facts” – Lee’s words – reveal:

  • The demand for new teachers is not being met;
  • There were more schools rated “D” or “F” than can be served;
  • The legislature failed to step in when federal funding (“Race to the Top”) ended in 2014-15. That failure resulted in the State Department of Public Instruction losing over half the staff, from 147 to 57, dedicated to serving low performing schools and the loss of critical funding used to develop and implement effective teaching.
  • In 2014 North Carolina ranked 49th out of 50 states in terms of percentage of its eleventh graders meeting the ACT reading benchmark.

“There is an ongoing constitutional violation of every child’s right to receive the opportunity for a sound basic education.”

Judge Lee knows the truth: every day legislators shuck-and-jive about their record on education, they violate the constitution and a court order to fix it.

Rather than engaging in empty campaign season efforts to obscure the failure to properly fund public education and meet the our constitutional guarantee, it is time for the General Assembly to end its assault on public schools and curtail the showering of millions of unaccountable tax dollars on private schools.

Instead they should develop a comprehensive plan – that Judge Lee will endorse -- that truly does give every child the opportunity for a sound basic education.

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