Abbreviated name: Hoke County Board of Education v. State; also referred to as Leandro v. State
Court assigned case numbers: Wake County 95 CVS 1158; N.C. Court of Appeals 95-321 (1996), 11-1545 (2012- opinion vacated by the N.C. Supreme Court); N.C. Supreme Court 179PA96 (1997); 530PA02 (2004); 5PA12-2 (2013)
All current plaintiffs: Hoke County Board of Education; Halifax County Board of Education; Robeson County Board of Education; Cumberland County Board of Education; Vance County Board of Education; Randy L. Hasty, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Randell B. Hasty; Steven R. Sunkel, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Andrew J. Sunkel; Lionel Whidbee, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Jeremy L. Whidbee; Tyrone T. Williams, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Trevelyn L. Williams; D.E. Locklear, Jr., individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Jason E. Locklear; Angus B. Thompson II, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Vandaliah J. Thompson; Mary Elizabeth Lowery, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Lannie Rae Lowery; Jennie G. Pearson, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Sharese D. Pearson; Benita B. Tipton, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Whitney B. Tipton; Dana Holton Jenkins, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Rachel M. Jenkins; and Leon R. Robinson, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Justin A. Robinson
Plaintiff-Intervenor: Charlotte–Mecklenburg Board of Education
Plaintiff-Intervenors: Rafael Penn; Clifton Jones, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Clifton Matthew Jones; and Donna Jenkins Dawson, individually and as Guardian ad Litem of Neisha Shemay Dawson and Tyler Anthony Hough-Jenkins
Defendant: State of North Carolina and State Board of Education
Realigned Defendant: Charlotte–Mecklenburg Board of Education
In 1994, five poor school systems sued the State, seeking both a declaration that the State had failed to meet its constitutional duties to provide equal educational opportunities for all students and a court-imposed remedy to correct the violation. These school boards for systems in Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance Counties were joined by individual plaintiffs, including Kathleen M. Leandro and her son, Robert A. Leandro, a student in the Hoke County Schools – the first named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Another group intervened in the lawsuit to assert the failure of the state under the current school funding system to provide adequate educational opportunities to students in relatively large and wealthier systems in the state – boards of educations and students and their parents or guardians from school systems of the City of Asheville and of Buncombe, Wake, Winston-Salem/Forsyth, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and Durham Counties. In 1996, the Court of Appeals rejected claims by the plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors. In 1997, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Burley Mitchell, stating, “[w]e conclude that Article I, Section 15 and Article IX, Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution combine to guarantee every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.” The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals in rejecting the plaintiffs’ claim for substantial funding equality, with a dissent from Justice Robert Orr. The case was remanded to the trial court. Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning, Jr. presided over a lengthy hearing process and issued four memoranda of decisions from October 2000 through May 2001, concluding that the State had failed to provide at-risk students with the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education and ordering a remedy of providing pre-kindergarten to at-risk students. The State appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal directly. In 2004, the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Robert Orr, affirmed the trial court’s order regarding at-risk students – with some modifications – and reversed in regard to the prekindergarten, finding that the State should have been given the opportunity to propose a constitutional remedy before it was imposed by the court.
Since then, the trial court has held numerous hearings and issued reports, orders, and other memoranda including on performance problems in high schools – including Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, reading, and Halifax County Schools. All of the relatively larger and wealthier school districts that had intervened voluntarily dismissed their claims in 2006, except Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education which could not do so as it also was named as a defendant by an additional set of plaintiff-intervenors (the “Penn” intervenors”). Individually named students and their parents also have changed as students have graduated over the twenty-year period of the lawsuit.
In regard to prekindergarten, the State continued to provide to the court its efforts to expand availability of prekindergarten. When the General Assembly in 2011 modified the program in ways that would limit access to the prekindergarten program, Judge Manning ordered the state not to implement any law or regulation that would deny eligible at-risk children admission to the pre-kindergarten program and “shall provide the quality services of the NCPK to any eligible at risk four year old that applies.” The State appealed the order. In 2012, the General Assembly substantially amended the legislation and the provisions that limited access. The Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Manning’s order in 2012, including the mandate to not deny any eligible “at-risk” four year old admission to the pre-kindergarten program. On appeal by the State, the Supreme Court in 2013 reversed. In a per curiam opinion (issued in the name of the court rather than authored or signed by individual justices) the supreme court held that the changes to the legislation by the General Assembly in 2012 made the controversy moot. The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals with instructions to vacate the order of the trial court.
Latest action/Next steps
Judge Manning held hearings July 21-23 on the State’s Compliance Plan. This plan was ordered in April after a set of hearings. The State Board of Education submitted the State Plan in advance of the hearing and provided testimony at the hearing from Department of Public Instruction officials to explain the plan. The Plaintiffs provided a written response to the plan prior to the hearing and then provided several experts to address the process needed for developing a plan and the needed elements of the plan. Judge Manning reached the mandatory retirement age just after the hearing. Before beginning retirement he issued the order for the November hearing. In returning from retirement, he will be a specially appointed to judge to continue presiding over the case. For the November hearing, Judge Manning has ordered the State to provide a detailed update on the results of standardized tests administered in the 2014-15 school year and will provide the State the opportunity to provide any further evidentiary presentation on the State Plan and an opportunity for rebuttal by the Plaintiffs.