Sound and Basic: That is a Low Bar for North Carolina

Does your child, your grandchild and/or your neighbor deserve a sound, basic education?

I think we can all agree that yes, each child deserves a sound, basic education and here in N.C. it is actually mandated in our state constitution. Did you know that over the past 19 years, N.C.’s court system has determined that the state is falling short of even this very low bar? Surprised? Saddened?

Enough to actively get involved and demand that our state and local governments must provide a high-quality, exemplary education for all? It is not only the right thing to do but a smart investment as education investments directly benefit GDP, tax base and have societal benefits.

If you have lived in more than one state, especially one in the Northeast, it is obvious: money CAN buy educational resources and school districts across the United States when compared to N.C., and even within N.C., are NOT at all equitable.

Let’s bring this topic home. How do inequitable school resources impact students here in Chatham County? Simple: more money, when used appropriately, ensures a well resourced school district. A district with adequate school staffing, qualified teachers and principals, access to early learning opportunities, an equitable and dependable school funding stream, meaningful student assessments and school accountability metrics, and a strong high school career and college advising corp to assure our students are ready for a 21st century college or career opportunities.

The solution to what seems an intractable problem has been well articulated in North Carolina through the Leandro remediation plan developed as a result of a court mandated independent commission. The Leandro case was brought to the courts in 1994 by families from five school districts suing the state for failing to meet their constitutional obligations.

In 2004, the N.C. Supreme Court confirmed what had been found in 1994, that “an inordinate number of students had failed to obtain a sound basic education and that the State had failed in [its] constitutional duty.” The case was again brought to the courts in 2018 and the courts stated that “the evidence before this court…is wholly inadequate to demonstrate…substantial compliance with the constitutional mandate.”

The court then ordered an independent study, assigned to WestEd, to create a report for NC on how they could meet their constitutional obligations for all students’ rights to a sound, basic education. The courts stated, “WestEd concluded, and this Court found, that considerable systematic work is still required to deliver fully the Leandro right to all children in our State.”

Despite there being a well articulated, comprehensive plan for addressing the most pressing needs in our schools, progress toward enacting such a plan has stalled in the General Assembly and is now back in the courtroom. After 20 years we are still not close to fulfilling our constitutional obligation to our children, and gaining ground may now be up to us, through our votes and voice, to let it be known that our children, and our communities, deserve immediate relief by way of funding what is a comprehensive system of remedies.

Why is this an urgent issue? It is apparent that underfunding our schools for such a long period of time is impacting not only individual students, but our state economy, our ability to fill jobs with viable candidates, and the opportunity to entice corporations to our state when we lack an adequate number of highly educated workers with 21st century skills.

The courts previously found: “[T]housands of students are not being prepared for full participation in the global, interconnected economy and the society in which they live, work and engage as citizens. The costs to those students, individually, and to the State are considerable and if left unattended will result in a North Carolina that does not meet its vast potential”.

Another important note by the court is that state funding “has not kept pace with the growth and needs of the PreK-12 student body.” Let these numbers speak for themselves:

• N.C. ranks 39th nationally ( per pupil spending

• Over the past decade, per-pupil spending has declined by 6% in NC

• Teachers pay is No. 33 in the Nation

• Enrollment in undergraduate education programs is down across the UNC system

• N.C. ranks No. 44 nationally for principal pay

• The corporate income tax in NC is only 2.5%, one of the lowest in the nation and leaves little funds for our public schools

Take a look at other states and see what tax dollars and a well articulated, consistently executed, sustainably funded and well monitored plan can buy in education. Then look at the state of public education funding in N.C., a stark and appalling difference.

When the state does not provide enough funding to fully fund our local public schools here in Chatham County, we have two choices. One, to use our local tax dollars to fill the holes left by the state of N.C. Or two, go without.

To bring it home here in Chatham, what could an increase in school funding mean for our students?

• A school nurse in each school

• More social workers in each school. The recommended ratio is one social worker for every 250 students. North Carolina has one for every 1,289 students.

• More school counselors in every school

• Adding middle school career/ college development coordinators

• More teachers in the pipeline to ensure increased quality

• Strong teachers and principals with sustained professional development

Every child deserves a high quality, exemplary education; as individuals it is up to each of us to advocate for this actively and vocally, at the local and state level. Leadro rulings and the subsequent comprehensive remediation plan offers us a specific plan and golden opportunity. Let us not waste it. We should set our bar higher and I know our students will rise to that challenge.

Article by: Jaime Detzi

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