RALEIGH — Instead of the traditional top-10 issues in public education, the Public School Forum of North Carolina picked just one.
Fully complying with Leandro, North Carolina’s long-running education funding lawsuit, is the top education issue for 2020, the education nonprofit announced Feb. 18 during its sixth annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast at the McKimmon Center at N.C. State University.
The state must immediately and intentionally move to meet the constitutional obligation to provide each child a sound, basic education, said Michael Priddy, the organization’s interim president and executive director.
Leandro began in 1994 when five rural school districts sued the state over their inability to provide an education on par with wealthier school districts. Later court rulings cemented the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education to all North Carolina students.
Decades later, the state is still grappling with how to ensure students get the education they’re entitled to receive. The public release of the report by the WestEd consulting group reinvigorated discussions on how the state could meet its constitutional obligation. Superior Court Judge David Lee, the presiding judge in the case, issued a court order directing the parties to come up with a plan to satisfy Leandro using the WestEd report as guidance.
“The WestEd report made clear what many in this room have been saying for a long time. The state has not been complying with Leandro,” Lauren Fox, senior policy director at Public School Forum, told the audience.
Fox and Priddy outlined Tuesday five priorities for how the state should address Leandro:
- Redesigning the school finance system.
- Overhauling educator compensation, recruitment, and development.
- Revamping the school accountability model by eliminating or revising the A-F school performance grades.
- Supporting a major state investment to fully fund North Carolina’s more than $8 billion school infrastructure needs.
- Establishing a plan to monitor Leandro compliance.
“We have an unprecedented, once-in-a-generation opportunity to begin charting a new future for our state’s public schools,” Fox said.
The state’s economic viability relies on the state meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with access to a sound basic education, said Anthony Jackson, the superintendent of Vance County.
Jackson made those comments during a live taping of the Public School Forum’s television program, “Education Matters,” after the Eggs & Issues Breakfast. He was joined by Alan Duncan, vice chair of the State Board of Education; Ann McColl, president and co-founder of the Innovation Project; and Thomas Oxholm, vice president of finance and administration at Wake Stone Corporation.
The panelists agreed that complying with Leandro is critical.
Duncan called it a constitutional imperative, an economic imperative, and a moral imperative.
“I’m hopeful that we will take this opportunity to take hold of the moral imperative and do what is right for children every single day and in every single classroom,” Jackson said.