Thursday, 06 February 2020 14:55

Senate committee invites judge to explain school-equity court order

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RALEIGH — Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, wants the presiding judge in the Leandro school-finance case to share his perspective on education policy before the Senate Education Committee.

Ballard, a co-chair of the Senate committee, sent Superior Court Judge David Lee a letter Tuesday, Feb. 4, inviting him to speak to committee members during the upcoming short session, which starts April 28.

Lee issued a consent order Jan. 21 setting the stage for action in the decades-old education funding dispute. WestEd, a California-based education consulting group, published a report with recommendations for how the state can comply with Leandro. Any proposal that requires spending more money would need the General Assembly’s approval. Republican lawmakers said they never got a call from WestEd.

Ballard is looking to bridge the gap.

The Leandro case has made two facts clear, Ballard wrote. One, there are no easy answers in determining which education policies provide the best results. Two, the courtroom isn’t the best place to resolve complex policy challenges.

“Opinions differ as to which education policies are most effective and best for our diverse student population,” Ballard wrote. “I want to hear and be in a position to consider as many of those opinions as possible, because that’s what fosters better policy outcomes.”

The court tasked WestEd with developing recommendations for how the state could meet its constitutional obligation to provide every student with access to a sound basic education. The organization consulted with various education stakeholders, sans Republican legislative leaders.

WestEd said they talked with Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, but Horn said he didn’t have an active role in developing the WestEd report.

Lee received WestEd’s report June 17, but it wasn’t made public until Dec. 4. The more than 400-page report provided policy recommendations, but most notably it called for a massive increase in public education spending.

Lee said in his consent order he’s optimistic the parties “can obtain the support necessary from the General Assembly.”

Ballard’s invitation could be the first step in meeting that goal, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.

“To avoid a battle over the separation of powers, Judge Lee needs the support of the Republican leadership in the General Assembly,” Stoops said. “A meeting would go a long way toward establishing a productive working relationship between the judge and legislative leaders.”