A Letter to Santa From NC’s Cash-Starved Schools

Crowds cheer during a 2018 demonstration against the GOP-controlled NC General Assembly's education policies, including the state's expanding private school voucher program. School funding is one of the areas that figures to suffer if Republicans eliminate the state's corporate tax. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

By Kim Mackey

December 16, 2020

A NC educator asks Santa to do what lawmakers have failed to do for more than two decades of the Leandro case: Give schools proper funding.

[Editor’s Note: It’s the holidays. So Cardinal & Pine contributor Kim Mackey offers a letter to Santa from Leandro, one of the children in the ongoing state lawsuit over adequacy of school funding. The suit, which was filed more than 20 years ago, contended that the state failed to offer equitable funding between its richer and poorer counties. Sage K-12 guru Ann McColl tells you everything you need to know about it here. Suffice to say, decades into the case, state courts still find NC’s legislature to have failed to meet the state Constitution’s guarantee of a “sound, basic education.”]

Dear Santa,

My name is Leandro and I’m writing on behalf of all students in North Carolina to help you understand that contrary to some rumors, we belong on the nice list.  

We listen to our parents and teachers, and try our best each day whether we’re learning in a classroom or in a virtual setting.

I’m writing this letter because I’m worried you may think my fellow classmates, parents, and teachers are on the naughty list. Some Grinches have been whispering in your ear that this school year has been a “wasted year” and “a disaster.”  

This year sure has been difficult for a lot of folks but most of us are doing our best – please don’t believe our efforts have been a disaster.

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Despite these Grinches’ efforts to blame a pandemic alone for learning gaps, the 300+ page WestEd report released last year details how inadequate support from our state government undermines our efforts to succeed.  

This court-ordered report is a roadmap to help our state finally uphold its constitutional obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to children throughout our state, over twenty years after the court’s first call to action in the 1997 Leandro decision.  

For Christmas, we want all state officials to make it their New Year’s Resolution to get to work on the recommended pathways.  These are not suggestions. They are prescriptions for how our state can finally follow its Constitution:

·       Revise the state funding model, including an additional $8 billion just to catch up.

·       Provide qualified, diverse, well-prepared, teachers and principals in every school.

·       Provide all at-risk students with high-quality pre-K programs.

·       Increase support in addressing needs of economically disadvantaged students.

·       Change the student assessment and school accountability system.

·       Direct additional support and funding to high-poverty schools.

The pandemic exacerbated challenges but they existed long before the virus.  This journey to get the state to uphold its commitment to students like me began in 1994.  The 2019 WestEd report confirms “the state is further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound basic education than it was when the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued the Leandro decision more than 20 years ago.” 

RELATED: Teacher Turnover in NC Dropped Slightly. But Don’t Pat Yourself on the Back GOP.

Just as the bell in The Polar Express story can only be heard by those who believe in you Santa, the WestEd report falls on deaf ears among those who do not believe state education funding is the source of the state’s failure to uphold a “sound basic education” for all of North Carolina’s children.  How do state legislators suppose those pathways will be paved without serious investment from them?

Since the release of this report, several leaders in key positions like Sen. Phil Berger are in denial. They say you can’t “throw money” at a problem, even when lack of money is undisputedly THE problem.  

The WestEd report says our state needs $8 billion over the next 8 years just to catch up and our school construction needs are another $8 billion behind.

Legislators are trying to convince everyone they’re on the nice list and too many folks believed them and re-elected them this fall.

They return to legislative session this January.  Santa, please leave them enough coal to defrost their commitment to fulfilling their constitutional obligation to support North Carolina’s public school children.

Starving kids like me of a “sound basic education” while emphasizing their shortfalls on standardized testing is irrational. It’s like a parent blaming a child for not gaining weight when they’re not providing the child adequate nutrition. 

Santa, to help you fulfill this mission I’ll leave extra cookies for you and carrots for the reindeer.  

Unlike our current legislative leaders, I think some extra fuel will help you reach your destination.




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