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Perspective | August is a big month for Leandro

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On Aug. 31, the N.C. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Leandro case that may determine next steps for funding to ensure every child in North Carolina has access to a quality education. 

For several years, we’ve known that many children across the state are not being provided their constitutional right to a sound, basic education. Full funding of the Leandro Remedial Plan is required for the state to meet this obligation.

Funding for Leandro would significantly improve access to educational programs and services, particularly in communities where children are being left behind. This includes increased access to early learning opportunities, such as NC Pre-K and the NC Infant Toddler Program, as well as supports like home visiting, child care subsidies, and salary supplement programs for early educators. We know early childhood investments like these have some of the greatest returns in child development and strengthening our economy.

Advocates agree the Leandro plan represents the bare minimum for upholding North Carolina children’s educational rights. Full funding would help to eliminate inequities that prevent students from getting what they need and are owed. It’s also especially critical in light of the looming cliff in federal relief funding that is expected to further destabilize the early education system. 

What’s happened and happening this month

The state Supreme Court will address disagreements related to Leandro’s funding that have been on the table since last year. In 2021, Judge David Lee ordered that $1.7 billion be transferred to the public school system — the amount required to fully fund the first two years of the Leandro plan and meet constitutional obligations, which was not included in the 2021 state budget. The N.C. Court of Appeals blocked this transfer in December, saying only the General Assembly had the authority to direct state funds.

A new judge, named Judge Michael Robinson, modified Lee’s order to $785 million in April 2022, with no plans for a transfer of funds. The 2022 state budget signed in July also fell short of including the full funding required.

At the end of this month, the state Supreme Court will hear from both sides to determine if the state needs to transfer the funds. We’ll know their decision at a later date to be determined by the court. 

Over 144 organizations representing education, civil rights, philanthropic, business leaders, and community groups from across North Carolina, including the NC Early Childhood Foundation, have signed an amicus brief showing their support for the Leandro plan and its guarantee of the constitutional rights of every child to a quality education.

The brief was filed by the North Carolina Justice Center and Every Child NC coalition for consideration by the Supreme Court. It outlines the benefits of full funding of the Leandro plan to children, particularly those whose constitutional rights have been most neglected. 

Show your support

With 1.5 million children accessing traditional public schools and public charter schools, and many of our youngest learners and future leaders on the way, equitable funding in public education is critical to ensuring every child in North Carolina has the greatest opportunity for success. 

Several of the areas funded by the Leandro plan, and prioritized by the foundation’s Pathways, are essential to putting more children on track to reading on grade level by the end of third grade — a strong predictor of school and career achievement. Further delays in funding continue to put our children, and state, at risk. 

Join parents, community members, and advocates across the state, this month and beyond, in demonstrating your support. See some opportunities to engage below:

  • Build awareness about how much your county would gain to support students if the Leandro plan was fully funded using this impact analysis tool.
  • Encourage your county leaders to adopt a local resolution affirming their commitment to Leandro.
  • Watch the All Together documentary series airing for free on Monday nights in August to learn more about advocacy taking place in local communities across the state.
  • Host an event or letter writing campaign like ones held by community leaders in Robeson County and Pastors for NC Children.
  • Come to the “Rally for Every Child” Leandro Action Week Kickoff event on Halifax Mall (301 N Wilmington St., Raleigh) on Saturday August 27th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
  • Attend a press conference followed by a prayer vigil outside the N.C. Supreme Court (2 E Morgan St., Raleigh) on Wednesday, August 31, at 9:00 a.m.
  • Join the Every Child NC coalition to learn more about the Leandro case and advocacy opportunities. Explore their Advocacy Toolkit in English and Spanish.

Together, we can live out our commitment to every North Carolina child to upholding their constitutional rights. They deserve nothing less.

Mary Mathew

Mary Mathew is the Collaboration and Policy Leader at the NC Early Childhood Foundation. She co-leads various efforts aimed at improving child and family wellbeing and early childhood systems in North Carolina such as the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative, EarlyWell Initiative, NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council.