State unveils comprehensive remedial plan for education to comply with Leandro ruling

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • The state submitted Monday a court-ordered comprehensive remedial plan meant to bring North Carolina into compliance with the Leandro court case ruling that children have the right to a sound basic education.

Although the court case was decided decades ago, over the years the state defendants, the plaintiffs and the court have gone back and forth over what a sound, basic education means, and exactly what the state must do to provide one for all children.

“North Carolina’s PreK-12 education system leaves too many students behind, especially students of color and economically disadvantaged students. As a result, thousands of students are not being prepared for full participation in the global, interconnected economy and the society in which they will live, work, and engage as citizens,” the plan stated.

The remedial plan sets out a seven-year-long series of proposed funding for improvements to address specific issues identified within the public school system. Many of the items come with multi-million-dollar price tags, while others have undetermined costs or won’t require additional funding beyond what’s already budgeted.

Just a few of the proposals include:

•Expanding the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program; providing support for high quality teacher preparation residency programs in high need rural and urban districts; and expanding existing recruitment efforts through TeachNC and Partnership TEACH, would help address the need for a well prepared, high quality and supported teacher in each classroom. The plan also proposes establishing an Office of Equity Affairs at N.C. Department of Public Instruction “to direct the recruitment and retention of a diverse educator workforce.”

•Updating the state’s school administrator preparation standards and principal licensure requirements to align with the National Education Leadership Preparation (NELP) standards; supporting the North Carolina Principal Fellows Program to prepare 300 new principals every year; and develop a plan for the creation of a School Leadership Academy to provide initial and ongoing support to the state’s district and school leaders, as part of efforts to have a well prepared, high quality and supported principal in every school.

•Multiple steps to revise the finance system to provide adequate, equitable and efficient resources, including: increasing low wealth funding to provide eligible counties supplemental funding equal to 110 percent of the statewide local revenue per student; removing the children with disabilities funding cap and increasing supplemental funding to provide funding for students with disabilities equivalent to 2.3 times the cost of an “average” student; and eliminating the limited English proficiency funding cap and increasing funding.

•More funding for teachers, assistants and classroom needs, including steps such as: providing approximately one teacher assistant for every 27 K-3 students; increasing funding for classroom supplies and textbooks combined to $150 per student; and increasing funding for non-instructional support “to reverse budget cuts that have hampered districts’ abilities to provide all students with a sound basic education.”

•Other parts of the plan focus on aligning school assessments and accountability systems; providing a “turnaround function” and assistance support to low-performing school districts; scaling up the Smart Start program to increase quality and access for all children from birth to age five, especially children in under-resourced communities; and aligning high school to post-secondary and career expectations for all students.

The state submitted the comprehensive remedial plan this week, just over a year since Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered the state to create it. Lee ordered the plan after reviewing findings from a 300-page report by independent education research firm WestEd, released in December 2019. The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education hired WestEd to take an in-depth look at what the state needed to do to comply with the Leandro ruling.

The WestEd report found that it’s harder today than ever before for the state to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide for children’s education. The requirements for a sound basic education have increased, and there has been a reduction in the education workforce as well as increased challenges in attracting and retaining qualified teachers, the study found.

The 2019 report found that the state needed to “significantly increase its commitment and efforts to provide for the education of every student,” and that to do so would require policymakers acting to “strategically improve and transform multiple components of the education system,” WestEd researchers concluded.

The plan that the state released Monday endeavors to change North Carolina’s education system by 2030.

“The Plan details the actions the State and State Board of Education are committed to taking and the corresponding goals that they intend to achieve by 2028, with the full educational benefits of these measures realized by 2030,” the document said. “All Parties agree that the actions outlined in the Plan are necessary and appropriate actions that must be implemented to address the continuing constitutional violations and to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education to all children in North Carolina.”

Lee has not yet called for a hearing on the newly released plan.

The Leandro case is named for the Leandro family of Hoke County, one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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