Image via Shutterstock. More than 25 years after Leandro, NC struggles to address educational inequalities.
Image via Shutterstock.

Three North Carolina lawmakers say the state legislature has failed to meet the orders of the landmark Leandro case. 

(Editor’s Note: This week, state officials filed a key action plan in North Carolina’s long-running Leandro case. More than 25 years since the case began in five low-wealth counties, counties that struggled to fund school systems equal to their counterparts in wealthier counties, inequity remains a crucial issue in the state.

To that end, several Democratic lawmakers have filed bills intended to address those lingering inequities. Cardinal & Pine has offered them a chance to explain those pending bills.)

North Carolinians value education. It is enshrined in the NC Constitution because of its deep importance to our society. 

In the past, we made strides at every level of education. 

Smart Start, developed in NC for our preschool children, stands as a national model. 

Our public universities are among the best in the world, with graduates who have made significant medical and technological innovations.

But since 1997, the courts have consistently ruled in the ongoing Leandro litigation that the State is not meeting a minimum standard of a sound, basic education in our public schools. 

According to the recent court commissioned third-party report on the state of public education in NC, hundreds of thousands of children are being denied their constitutional right, and students falling behind are disproportionately African-American, Hispanic, and Native American.

In the last decade of sorely inadequate state budgets, it’s gotten even more serious. 

North Carolina is now in the lowest tier of state spending per-pupil, estimated by NEA as 39th in the country.  When state spending falters, local taxpayers are forced to step up or our schools suffer even more.  

Wealthy counties have raised property taxes to make up some of the shortfall, but lower-wealth counties cannot afford to do the same. The result is a widening achievement gap and a generation of students falling even farther behind because of where they live.

What can we do?  What must we do? 

The same report that laid out the extent of the problem also provides a roadmap for how to solve it.  Using that roadmap, we have introduced two bills to restore the promise of a sound, basic education to all students.

These bills adopt common-sense, proven approaches to make sure each and every child — regardless of their race, ethnicity, or neighborhood — can benefit from great learning environments, and our communities will benefit from the talents and skills they develop.

House Bill 1129 would reform many of our antiquated education policies, including the ways we evaluate school success. This bill calls for reforms to underperforming schools, allows teacher salary increases based on experience and performance, increases the racial and ethnic diversity of teachers, and rebuilds the state’s capacity to provide turnaround assistance in chronically low-performing schools by providing funding and funding flexibility.

House Bill 1130 would make the new investments North Carolina needs to remain competitive and put our students on the path to success. 

It would allocate funding to rebuild the teacher pipeline, train and keep the best teachers in North Carolina, expand Pre-K, infant-toddler and Smart Start programs that benefit our children early in their development, increase supplemental funding for special needs students, and set the goal of universal broadband by 2024.

This isn’t just about injecting our schools with more money – it’s about making investments to eliminate disparities – especially racial disparities — that have plagued our public education system for decades.

The events of the last few months have further laid bare the gaps in our educational system. 

The ugly truth is that while all of our public schools have suffered from many of the policy and funding decisions made in this decade, our black and brown students and our most vulnerable communities are the ones that have been hit hardest by these draconian budget cuts.

Our state constitution is sacred. It decrees that every child has a constitutional right to a public education. Now is the time to live up to that promise — to finally act to pass laws and budgets that offer opportunity to every child in North Carolina.