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Public school advocates rally for Leandro

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A few hundred people gathered outside the N.C. Supreme Court on Thursday morning to call on the state to fully fund the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan.

Inside, the court heard oral arguments in the case again. The political makeup of the Supreme Court has shifted since its November 2022 decision — from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican majority.

At Thursday’s rally, “Day of Action for Education Rights,” organized by Every Child NC, public school advocates, educators, and students called for North Carolina to “fully fund” public schools.

“Through their unethical and unjust rehearing of the already-decided Leandro case, they are not only challenging our constitution — the very foundation our democracy is built on — but are doing so for the purpose of denying our children’s basic education rights,” Every Child NC said in a statement. “At Every Child NC, we will continue fighting for what we know our children deserve.”

The rally started with a car caravan around the Raleigh courthouse on Thursday morning. By the time the rally started outside the court at 10 a.m., about a dozen cars continued to honk as they passed 2 E. Morgan Street, answering the call of a sign that read, “Honk if you love public schools.” Hear the sounds for yourself below.

‘Stand up for the right to be publicly educated’

The Leandro case began 30 years ago when families from five low-wealth counties sued the state, and the first decision in the case established the state constitutional right to access a sound, basic education.

This week marks the fifth time Leandro has come before the Supreme Court. On Thursday, rally speakers called on Republicans to fully fund the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan and emphasized the state constitutional right to education. They argued that fully funding Leandro will help schools better serve more students.

Tamika Kelly of NCAE speaks at the Day of Action for Education Rights. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) President Tamika Walker Kelly said it is “a critical moment” for public education.

“Our actions, (the court’s) actions, shape the destinies of many generations to come. But their actions today will affect all those 1.5 million public school students who are in classrooms taught by teachers right now,” Kelly said. “Public schools are a promise that we make to our children — that regardless of where you come from, your background, your zip code, or how you choose to show up in the world — that every child deserves a chance to succeed.” 

Rev. William Barber II, a minister and social activist, urged people to vote to protect public education.

“Let’s use our power,” he told the crowd. “We’ve got the power to save our schools. Let’s use it now.”

Action4Equity Winston-Salem’s Rev. Paul Robeson Ford helped lead the rally and issued a call to protect the right to a sound, basic education. Listen to an excerpt of his speech below.

Around noon, rally attendees marched from the courthouse to the General Assembly for a short press conference with students leading the way.

“There is no better thing young people can be doing today than to stand up for the right to be publicly educated,” Marcus Bass, executive director of Advance Carolina, said at the press conference.

Following that press conference, Every Child NC also hosted a “lunch and learn” on Black history at Edenton Street United Methodist Church.

Throughout the day’s events, speakers said that fully funding Leandro would be particularly beneficial for the state’s students of color and rural students.

Invest in every child

Fund schools with Leandro

Give the kids their money 

Invest in our schools 

Teachers just want to have funds!

A sampling of signs at Thursday’s rally

During the rally, Every Child NC set up a table with more information on the history of Leandro, along with how much money each school district would receive under the plan.

El Centro Hispano and Pastors for North Carolina Children also had booths with Spanish information on Leandro and free megaphones, respectively. At Pastors for NC Children’s table, kids were able to make their own decorated paper megaphone.

Luna Gomez of Durham Public Schools speaks at the Day of Action rally. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Luna Gomez, a fourth grader at Durham Public Schools, voiced her support for funding Leandro during the rally.

“I’m here to represent students because students need a good education,” Gomez said. “Children are our future and we need to have a good education… we deserve it, we are worth it.” 

Listen to more of her remarks below.

Madalo Bean, an eighth grader from Wayne County Public Schools, also spoke in favor of funding Leandro.

“With the money that Wayne County could receive, my school could have done so much,” Bean said. “Our schools need money so we can succeed.”

You can watch the live stream of the rally and press conference on Every Child NC’s Facebook page.

What are elected officials saying?

Four Democratic state lawmakers attended Every Child NC’s press conference in front of the General Assembly on Thursday afternoon.

The legislators recognized during the press conference included Rep. Julie Von Haefen (Wake), House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Reives II (Chatham), Sen. Lisa Grafstein (Wake), and Rep. Lindsey Prather (Buncombe). The North Carolina Democratic Party also released an email statement in favor of fully funding Leandro on Thursday.

During the press conference, three students read a joint letter of support for Leandro from North Carolina House and Senate Democratic Caucus members.

“The Leandro Plan is a smart, common-sense way to support public schools and promise a better future for every child in North Carolina. Your child would have access to high-quality pre-K, an excellent teacher, a highly trained principal, adequate resources at school, fair tests, and training for education and work opportunities,” the letter says. “We must fulfill our constitutional duty to the children of North Carolina.”

The letter also says “Democratic legislators will be filing a bill supporting the entirety of the Leandro plan during the short session in April.”

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement on the “unprecedented rehearing of Leandro v. North Carolina,” also giving his support for fully funding the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan.

“Public schools are the bedrock of our communities and of our state’s economic success. More than 8 out of 10 school-aged children in North Carolina attend public schools,” Cooper said. “For 150 years, North Carolina has defined itself on the strength of our public education system. Our state has the resources to fully fund our public schools and now is the time to do it.”

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein also released a statement supporting Leandro.

“Today, lawyers from my office are arguing that we must invest in our public schools so our students can get the sound, basic public education that is their constitutional right. North Carolina – our executive branch, legislature, and courts – has a constitutional duty to deliver that education.

…North Carolina is 49th in the country in public education investment as a share of our economy and 46th in starting teacher pay. It is long past time for us to do better for our young people, and it starts with the Court reaffirming that truth in this case.”

Attorney General Josh Stein

Here is a recently updated article on everything you need to know about the Leandro litigation, including more information on the Comprehensive Remedial Plan. Here is all of EdNC’s coverage of Leandro.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.