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Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education urges action on Leandro

The Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education passed a resolution in its meeting today that urges “state bodies, entities, and agencies to take all necessary actions to implement and fund” a plan to meet the state’s constitutional obligation to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education to all of North Carolina’s students.

“I … think the public, the general public, hearing the voice of the commission is important at this point in time,” said Brad Wilson, chair of the commission, about the resolution.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina, in its landmark Leandro v. State of North Carolina decision, affirmed the fundamental right of every child to have access to a sound basic education. The courts also ruled that North Carolina was not meeting this constitutional requirement.

Today’s meeting came in the wake of a Sept. 8 hearing in the long-running case, in which Judge David Lee set an Oct. 18 deadline for the state to begin implementation of the Leandro comprehensive plan. That plan calls on the state to spend a little more than $5.5 billion in recurring funds on specific items agreed upon by the parties in the case.

The money for the plan would have to be appropriated by lawmakers in the General Assembly, but the proposed House and Senate budgets spend only a fraction of the money needed for the next two years of the plan. Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget, on the other hand, would cover all items for the next two years.

Cooper joined the commission at the start of the meeting to say that he is advocating in negotiations with the House and Senate over a final budget plan for implementation of the full Leandro proposal.

“As we enter these new trilateral budget negotiations, I will work as hard as I can for strong investments in this plan so we can make it a reality,” he told commission members.

He said that he has told legislative leaders that “… beyond our constitutional obligations here, not only is this the right thing to do … it is the smart thing to do.”

Gov. Roy Cooper and former CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Brad Wilson led the December 2017 meeting of the commission seeking to unpack the landmark Leandro case. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Republican leaders have, thus far, expressed skepticism about the court order from Lee.

Pat Ryan, a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in an emailed statement after the September court hearing that figuring out how the state should spend money isn’t the job of a judge. 

“If Judge Lee wants to help decide how to spend state dollars — a role that has been the exclusive domain of the legislative branch since the state’s founding — then Judge Lee should run for a seat in the House or Senate,” Ryan wrote.

Today, Lee’s order from the hearing earlier this month was officially filed. It states that “the parties shall appear before the Court on October 18, 2021, to inform the Court of the State’s progress in securing the full funds necessary to implement the Comprehensive Remedial Plan; and,

“in the event the full funds necessary to implement the Comprehensive Remedial Plan are not secured by that date, the Court will hear and consider any proposals for how the court may use its remedial powers to secure such funding.”

See the order below:

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.