'A win for equity, access': Leandro Case ruling draws reaction from NC educators

Akilah Davis Image
Friday, November 4, 2022
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In a landmark decision from school funding litigation that began three decades ago, the court's Democratic majority declared it was legitimate for a Superior Court judge to order the movement of $1.75 billion from state coffers to implement an education remedial plan.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday that every child in the state should have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education. The Democratic-led Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision, which ordered the General Assembly to fund the Leandro Plan.

"The word resources is really important. It seems like a fight about dollars and cents. What it's really about is what are the different personal forms of support to bring into schools to help kids learn," said Erick Houck, Associate Professor of leadership and policy in the school of education at UNC Chapel Hill.

The Leandro Case dates to 1994. A number of school districts came together and argued they weren't getting enough money from the state to teach their students.

As for the ruling on Friday, the General Assembly argued the court could not tell it how to spend taxpayer money, noting that only the state legislature has the constitutional power to distribute state funds. The high court disagreed, upholding the decision of a lower-court judge to move money from the state coffers.

"North Carolina has 115 school districts. It'll look different in every district. If this plan stands, what students and parents can expect to see is different programs supporting basic literacy, struggling learning, English language learners and kids with special needs. To have them achieve this vision the court upheld of every kid in North Carolina receiving a sound basic education," Houck said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators also weighed in on the ruling.

"We know there are disparities across the state between affluent school districts and those that do not have funds and resources. Today is a win for equity, access and opportunity for students across the state to receive a high quality public education," said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the NCAE. "It has been more than 20 years since this case originally came to the state Supreme Court and we know that a generation of students lost out on an opportunity to have an equitable education. Now we have the opportunity to remedy that so that we don't have another generation of students who have to feel that effect."

This decision coming just days before midterms and it's one that's taken the state Supreme Court 28 years to reach. Experts say the legislature will either comply with the courts order or elevate this to federal court to see if it can get a different ruling.