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Easley Sets Aside $12 Million For Poor Districts

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley has set aside up to $12 million to help students in the poorest school districts, a move designed to allay the concerns of a judge unhappy with legislative spending in this area.

Easley signed an executive order to establish the new fund late Wednesday, nearly a week after Judge Howard Manning gave the state a deadline to find more money for these students.

Manning has been presiding over a decade-old lawsuit that challenged the formula to determine how much state money low-wealth school districts received to teach their students.

The state Board of Education asked the Legislature to spend $22 million this school year to assist 16 school systems to assist them with improving student performance and teacher retention.

Much of that money was in the Senate budget proposal but the final budget bill contained $5 million in supplemental funds for poor districts, for use largely as the systems see fit.

Easley signed the budget bill last week but later said he would find additional money that the Legislature did not.

The governor's executive order sets aside the $12 million to establish the Disadvantaged Students Supplemental Fund. Schools that can receive money from the fund generally would have high poverty levels, low student performance scores and high rates of teacher turnover.

The Department of Public Instruction and state Board of Education will administer the fund. The money will come from money left over from the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"If we are going to continue to build the highly skilled work force needed in this economy, we cannot retreat on our commitment to education," Easley said in a news release Thursday.

"I had hoped that the Legislature would provide this funding," he said. "It is imperative that we provide these resources immediately so that they can be used in this school year."

The fund will help establish a bonus program for teachers in schools where teachers have been hard to hire in past years, Easley office said.

School districts also would receive money to create their own plans to improve teacher development and help individual students improve performance through ideas such as Saturday classes or afterschool tutoring.

Manning and state education leaders have been working through the aftermath of a series of rulings related to the "Leandro" case, named after a Hoke County family that sued the state over its school funding formula.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that defined a minimum "sound basic education" promised by the state constitution and sent the case back to the lower court to be tried.

Manning ruled in 2002 that the state is must ensure that every student has the opportunity for that kind of education. He has since ordered the state to come up with a plan so that low-wealth school districts give their students that same opportunity.

Easley said he had the executive authority to set up the fund based on the decisions generated through the Leandro case.

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