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Leandro report released: What it will take for NC children to receive sound, basic education

The state finally has a possible way forward to meet the constitutional standards set by the long-running Leandro education case. WestEd, an independent consultant directed by Judge David Lee to come up with recommendations to meet the mandates of the Leandro case, dropped a report today, laying out how the state can ensure that all students in the state have the opportunity for a sound basic education.

Findings and recommendations of the report cover: 

  • Finance and resource allocation.
  • A qualified and well-prepared teacher in every classroom.
  • A qualified and well-prepared principal in every school.
  • Early childhood education.
  • High-poverty schools.
  • State assessment system and school accountability system.
  • Regional and statewide supports for school improvement.
  • Monitoring the state’s compliance.

Click here to view the full report.

Eric Davis, chair of the State Board of Education, said the report will help the state improve its public education system and help all students, “especially those who are most vulnerable and at risk.”

“The WestEd Report tells us that considerable work must be done – and done soon – for the State to meet the promise of our Constitution for all North Carolina students. The State Board shares this sense of urgency and recognizes our constitutional duty to ensure access to a ‘sound, basic education,'” he wrote in an emailed statement. “… The ambition of our plan must be equal to the ambition our children and communities have for their collective futures. The State of North Carolina can – and must – meet the challenge.”

Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said that money is not necessarily a predictor of success. He said in an email that New York spends more per-pupil than any other state and still performs worse than North Carolina. 

“Of course, properly funding the education system is a critical priority for both parties, and always has been. The WestEd report suggests increasing K-12 education spending by a total of $6.8 billion over the next eight years. The Republican-led General Assembly has increased education spending by a total of nearly $10 billion over the previous eight years,” he wrote. “If Governor Cooper had not vetoed the budget, then we’d be continuing that positive trajectory again this year.

“Per pupil expenditures is currently $10,500 per student, and this year’s budget spends more than $10 billion on K-12 education. North Carolina already spends a higher share of its revenue on schools than 33 other states and we provide more funding to poor school districts than to wealthy ones.”

Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement that a high-quality education is essential to remaining “economically competitive.” 

“Your zip-code shouldn’t determine your future, and this groundbreaking report shows that we need to make significant investments in our public schools, strengthen our teacher and principal pipelines, and greatly expand early childhood learning opportunities for our most at-risk students,” he said in an emailed statement. “It’s time for a specific plan to get the job done, and I look forward to continuing to work with the State Board of Education and the plaintiffs in the case on developing that plan.”

In an email, Susan Mundry, senior director of learning innovations at WestEd, said this about the work of her organization on this report:

“Our team conducted multiple studies addressing access to effective educators, access to effective school leaders, adequate and equitable school funding and other resources, and adequate accountability and assessment systems. The research was used to inform the development of recommendations for a multi-year action plan to ensure all children in the state have the opportunity to have a sound, basic education,” she said in an email. “The Action Plan prepared for the Court provides recommendations for actions that will advance the state’s efforts to achieve compliance with the Leandro decision. It identifies the highest leverage and most critical actions for the state to initiate over the next six years and beyond to transform the education system and provide the necessary foundational education opportunities for all students.”

The Leandro case started in 1994 when families from five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming North Carolina was not providing their kids with the same educational opportunities as students in higher-income districts. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case that the state’s children have a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” A later Supreme Court opinion agreed with a lower court that North Carolina had not lived up to that constitutional requirement for every student. 

For much of its history, the Leandro case was overseen by Judge Howard Manning, who held numerous hearings in an effort to determine how the state could meet its constitutional obligation. In October of 2016, he requested to be removed from the case, and Chief Justice Mark Martin reassigned it to Emergency Superior Court Judge David Lee. 

Both sides in the Leandro case agreed back in 2017 that an independent consultant should be chosen to make recommendations on how the state can ensure quality education for every North Carolina child.

Along with the main report, WestEd provided a number of supporting reports. You can read them below.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.