By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • “What would 60 more teacher assistants look like in Hoke County? What would 10 more community school coordinators look like? How about more nurses, counselors and social workers? I’m not talking about next door. I’m talking about here in Hoke County,” Jackie Mclean asked the few dozen people gathered in Turlington auditorium.

Or, she asked, what about dozens of more slots for pre-kindergarten programs. Millions more in funding for early childhood education.

That’s just the start of what Hoke County alone could receive if the state were to fund a remedial plan under the Leandro court decision, Mclean said. But it hasn’t happened yet, and is at the center of yet another round of court battling.

“Time and time again we understand there’s always a deficit, and our children are the ones who suffer the casualties,” Mclean addressed the community members. “It is really important that we understand what Leandro is, and more importantly, how you as a community citizen, how you can be advocates for Hoke County. How you can speak to those lawmakers, those representatives, those politicians…your voice, my voice, collectively, we can change the outcome.”

Mclean was one of the speakers and participants at the community conversation held last week. The event was part of local efforts by the Hoke County NAACP to see the Leandro plan funded, and part of a national research project mapping the true cost of quality public education.

About 30 people turned out to the conversation which featured group discussion, brainstorming and thought-provoking questions from the researchers conducting the project.

“As we start this evening tonight, we’re inviting you to give voice to your concerns and what you know as it relates to Leandro, as it relates to Hoke County, as it relates to education in Hoke County,” Mclean said.

The event, held in conjunction with EveryChildNC, also premiered a short documentary called “Hoke County: Lead with Leandro.” The video centered around what Mclean has seen during her many years of experience at Hoke County High School as a dropout prevention specialist, and her attempts at supporting Leandro funding for public schools. It also featured interviews with Hoke County Commissioner Harry Southerland and Hoke County School Board Vice-Chair Rosa McAllister-McRae.

Sarah Montgomery of EveryChildNC, a division of the North Carolina Justice Center, introduced the video. It’s only the first in an in-progress series that will focus on some of the voices of people at the heart of the Leandro case.

“That was the first video in this new series on leaders who are fighting for Leandro,” Montgomery said.

The national school funding research project is conducted through the National Education Policy Center located at the University of Colorado – Boulder. The participants, who had to sign a release form consenting to participate in the research, had their input collected as part of an attempt to answer questions about education funding.

“What would it cost to provide an education beyond adequate? To provide that great equalizer, education, to all of our children everywhere?” researcher Tatiana Graham asked, speaking of the project’s basic questions they hope to answer. “What would it cost to sustain all-encompassing policies that address the struggles and the needs of children and families both in and out of school?”

The researchers hope to eventually include all 50 states. The project is coordinating with the N.C. Justice Center.

For more information on EveryChildNC and the Leandro case, visit https://everychildnc.org.

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