NC public education ‘remedial plan’ presented to judge

Published 6:53 pm Friday, March 19, 2021

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RALEIGH (AP) — A multibillion-dollar plan presented by North Carolina officials and designed to comply with legal rulings that declare the state has failed to meet constitutional obligations in public education is now in the hands of a judge.

The State Board of Education and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration filed this week in Wake County court a detailed action plan that envisions spending at least $5.6 billion on new education expenditures through 2028.

The “comprehensive remedial plan” includes funding improvements to help low-income students and those with disabilities, and to hire more school support personnel. Increased pay proposed for teachers, principals and assistant principal are not part of the monetary total because no amounts are given, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

The plan also explains how the state would increase teacher diversity and require competent teachers and principals in every school. Making sure at least 75% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in prekindergarten in every county is another recommended goal.

The plan was given to Superior Court Judge David Lee, who will consider the proposal. Lee is overseeing compliance with the school funding litigation known as “Leandro.” The legislature would have to appropriate funds to carry out the proposal, and it’s difficult for the judicial branch to force lawmakers to spend the money.

The Leandro case started in 1994 when families from five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming North Carolina was not providing their children with the same educational opportunities as students in higher-income districts. By 2004, the state Supreme Court had issued rulings saying the state’s children have a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education,” and that North Carolina had not lived up to that mandate.

Interest in compliance with the rulings grew in 2019 when a consultant’s report declared little progress had been made to meet the North Carolina Constitution’s directive. In fact, the WestEd report’s authors said the state was farther behind at meeting its obligation than in the 1990s. The consultant proposed spending scenarios. Judge Lee signed an order in September calling for $427 million in short-term education spending.

Republican lawmakers in charge of the General Assembly have pushed back on declarations that education spending has declined in real dollars over the past decade. Instead, they point to figures showing GOP legislators increased K-12 funding cumulatively by several billion dollars during the 2010s.

“Even though the legislature is the only body with the constitutional authority to implement many of the suggestions contained in the document, its authors have not engaged in any meaningful way with legislators for a year,” Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, said this week.

Every Child NC, comprised of community advocacy groups supporting education improvements through Leandro, called the plan “readily affordable.”

“The plan can easily be funded if North Carolina’s leaders increase this effort by prioritizing their constitutional obligations to students over tax cuts benefiting corporations and the wealthy,” Every Child NC said in a statement this week.