Plan Approved. Money Available. Why Local Public Support for the Leandro Case to Improve Public Education in NC Matters.
by Dr. Mary Kolek (Chatham Education Foundation Board Chair) and Jaime Detzi (Executive Director Chatham Education Foundation)
We have a vision at the Chatham Education Foundation. A vision for a fully funded public school system that provides all students the resources and services they need to to succeed as full participants in school, work and their community. Seems pretty simple.
This vision is predicated upon factors that include:
- A qualified teacher in each and every classroom, with continuing professional development so they can be effective instructors in their field.
- A qualified principal in each school that can lead continuous school improvement and establish a culture where all students feel safe, supported and challenged.
- A “whole child” support system that grows their social/emotional and physical wellness. This includes meeting recommended ratios of students to nurses, social workers, psychologists and counselors.
- Teaching assistants in the early grades to support student learning in literacy.
- Instructional materials and technologies available to all schools and students regardless of county or student income.
The recently commissioned, independent WestEd report, created in response to the ongoing Leandro case, addresses North Carolina’s pressing need to fully meet its constitutional obligation to provide our students with a sound basic education; not only for the sake of each child but for the long term health and success of our communities and state. The report was used as the basis for crafting the Comprehensive Leandro Remedial Plan that provides a detailed roadmap of how to address the systematic and long term shortcomings that are preventing our vision from being realized. A failure that impacts not only Chatham but every district in North Carolina.
The majority of jobs in NC require an education beyond a high school diploma. Unfortunately, according to myFutureNC, less than half of 25-44 year olds in North Carolina currently meet these requirements. Almost 30% of students never enroll in college and two-thirds never attain a degree or post secondary credential2. MyFutureNC’s goal is to have two million 25- through 44-year-olds obtain a high-quality postsecondary credential or degree by 2030; as of 2019 we have 1.3 million. This gap lies bare the urgency of passing a budget now that fully funds the steps laid out by the Leandro plan, not in a piecemeal way, but as a systemic and systematic approach to achieving a robust public education system foundational to the success of our work and community lives.
Every employer in NC can tell you that well educated graduates, prepared to meet the demands of our current and future workplaces, are central to a high quality workforce; one that supports and attracts vibrant business and industry.
So in order to get to our goal, let’s take a look at where we stand.
Where we stand
Status of Education
To help build some context, the WestEd report lays out eight areas of critical need to meet our constitutional obligations.
- Adequate, Equitable, and Aligned Finance and Resource Allocation
- A Qualified and Well-Prepared Teacher in Every Classroom
- A Qualified and Well-Prepared Principal in Every School
- High-Quality Early Childhood Education
- Support for High-Poverty Schools
- State Assessment System and School Accountability System
- Regional/Statewide Supports for School
- Monitoring the State’s Compliance
Phil Berger recently stated that “in 2010, North Carolina’s spending per student was $8,572. In 2020, North Carolina’s spending per student was $11,385, an increase of 33%.” (Phil Berger Press Shop). While this may sound good, what it shows is that the State of North Carolina was so far behind, that even with this 33% increase, we are still ranked 42nd in the nation in per pupil spending, as reported by the Education Data Initiative.
If you look at the North Carolina funding effort (the funding allocated to support PK-12 public education as a percentage of the state’s economic capacity (GDP)), in 2020 the Education Law Center reported North Carolina was 49th in the nation.
A spokeswoman for Phil Berger said the state had made “incredible strides in education” since the GOP took over in 2011. But we would ask, where is the evidence to support this statement?
If we look at 4th grade reading proficiency using the NAEP assessment, in 2011 34% of our 4th graders were reading proficiently and in 2019 36% were proficient. Deep cuts in teacher assistants in early grades, reduction in teacher professional development and support available from experts at the Department of Public Instruction are a few of the changes that must be reversed in order to address the myriad and growing needs of our diverse student population and the ever increasing demands on educators. Due to state cuts, costs are being taken up by county budgets, creating an even more inequitable situation.
Our schools are currently understaffed in many areas including school nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists, and this is not new to the COVID era. This impacts not only a school’s ability to support student mental health, but in turn, academic success. Research suggests effective school counselors can impact student success including high school graduation rates and college enrollment3.
Take a look below at the recommended number of support personnel and the actual support North Carolina provides to our students.
|Ratio of specialized school support personnel to students|
|Specialize Support Staff||National Recommended Ratio||NC Ratio (2019)|
|School nurse||1 per school||Districts range from 313 to 2,724 per school|
|School counselor||1:250 students||1:367 students|
|School social worker||1:250 students||1:1,427 students|
|School psychologist||1:500-700 students||1:2,083 students|
West Ed: Sound Basic Education for All – An Action Plan for North Carolina, 2019.
Teacher Recruitment and Retention
In North Carolina, between 2008 and 2017, educator preparation programs have seen over a 30% decrease in enrollment. This decreases the teacher pipeline and in a difficult two years since the start of COVID, is starting to break the system.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction states the overall state teacher attrition rate for 2018-2019 was 7.5%. The attrition rate for Beginning Teachers was 11.3%, substantially higher than a non-new teacher. 58.3% stated they left for “personal reasons” with retirement with full benefits (19.1%) and changing careers (12.5%) as the top stated reasons.
How do we get to our vision?
It is important to note that implementing the comprehensive remedial plan for the Leandro case is designed to bring NC up to the minimum requirement of a “sound basic education”. Achieving the goal of every school offering each child a world class education is a lofty vision, but fully funding and implementing the Comprehensive Remedial Plans is an essential step in the right direction
The cost for the Leandro Remedial Plan is $5.6 billion in recurring K-12 funding and $3.6 million in non-recurring funding through 2028. These funds will support expanding pre-k programs, more funds for low-wealth districts, remove caps on support for children with disabilities and English Language Learners, expand support for first year teachers, add more teaching assistants for the early grades, fund hiring more counselors, nurses and social workers, and more.
In September the Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education adopted a resolution that states, “the State now has an unreserved cash balance exceeding $7 billion and anticipated recurring revenues of $5 billion above the current base budget, and, thus, possesses ample existing fiscal resources to meet the first two years of the Plan for Fiscal Year 2021-22 and Fiscal Year 2022-23.”
The time is now. Our children and families deserve a “sound and basic” education and we would suggest, they deserve much more. Letting your elected officials know of your interest in, and hopefully support of, the comprehensive plan and its budgetary investments, is important and timely.
2 Tippett & Khan (2018a, 2018b)
3 Christine, Mulhern, “Better School Counselors, Better Outcomes”, Education Next, May 5, 2020.