TOM WILLIAMS: Leandro is a moral imperative as much as a Constitutional requirement

Posted June 29, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2020 5:56 a.m. EDT

Education matters Ep. 144

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Tom Williams' "Final Word" from the June 27, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters - "Leandro: Moving from Planning to Action." Williams is chairman of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

North Carolina and its elected and appointed leaders are at a pivotal time in our history as we are forced to confront the unprecedented health and economic realities of COVID-19 and the impact on the well being of our citizens and our essential public institutions. Without a doubt, while the funding and policy decisions are daunting, our elected state leaders have a golden opportunity for their long term, visionary, and bold leadership to invest in a better North Carolina for all.

This leadership opportunity offers a defining moment in their legacy to chart a course leading North Carolina to a new level of excellence in the coming years.

The major disruption to North Carolina by COVID-19 has brought to light the many inequities faced by our most vulnerable citizens and communities especially based on race, income, and geography from food insecurity and housing to health care, broadband access, and educational opportunities.

Likewise, our nation and state is experiencing firsthand the impact of embedded systemic racial and social injustices as evidenced by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks.

For our K through 12 students, a major step to increase systemic educational opportunities was taken on June 15 when the state’s Leandro Action Plan was submitted to Judge David Lee identifying its short-term 2021 priorities and additional funding of $427 million.

This plan and needed budget are a first step in meeting our state’s constitutional requirement for this and future generations of children. The short-term State plan is strategically aligned to Judge Lee’s consent order issued on Jan. 21, which requires an eight-year state plan to become Leandro compliant, ensuring every child their constitutional opportunity for a sound basic education.

Two of the major systems the Leandro Action Plan is required to address are the financial system, how state funds are allocated to schools to meet student needs, and the accountability system, how the state, schools, and students are assessed and reported on making academic progress. These systems have been the subject of much discussion over the past few decades and with the required Leandro Action Plan they need to be moved front and center to substantial action by our state leaders.

In addition, two essential school-based factors are at the core of each child, regardless of zip code, receiving a sound basic education. These are the availability, quality, and investments in both our teachers and principals, the two leading research-based factors in student achievement and school success.

The Action Plan recognizes a key aspect of supporting our educators and students is the need to invest in whole child support by increased resources for school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists, which are currently staffed below the national average. Today, perhaps more than ever before, the need for these professionals is paramount.

Finally, North Carolina is rightfully proud of its long-standing national reputation as a leader in quality early childhood education. The Action Plan acknowledges that our state has failed to adequately invest in equalizing the opportunity for more pre-K students in what the research has proven is a wise investment in our state’s future students, employees, and citizens.

Yes, these are challenging times for our state leaders but this is North Carolina and challenges don’t cause us to be timid or fearful. They inspire us to work together for the betterment of the State’s children and all citizens.

Yes, the Leandro Action Plan is a constitutional requirement but it’s also an ethical and moral imperative for our state leaders to take the next big step in meeting the needs of our students this year and for years to come.

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