Editorial: The Leandro case is crucial to fairness for minority students


The North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that would be transformative for minority students across the state.

The court will hear the “Leandro” case – named after one of the plaintiffs in the original case – in the coming months, rather than waiting for a decision from the Court of Appeal. The argument is integral to promoting equity in early childhood education.

Dating back to 1994, this lawsuit was filed against the state and claimed that North Carolina school districts lacked funds to provide equal education for all children. At the time, residents of the state were taxed at a higher rate than the national average.

North Carolina ranks in the bottom 50% of states for education quality.

Counties that were among the least funded in the state — including Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance and Cumberland — are still at the bottom of the NC Public School forum rankings. Every school in Halifax County is a Title I school, meaning it has a high concentration of poor students.

And – in underfunded counties – minority students are suffering.

Often there are not enough Spanish-speaking teachers to meet the academic needs of Spanish-speaking students. Those in poorer, rural counties are also more likely to lack long-term arts, music or physical education programs, according to WRAL reports.

The pool of literary materials is essentially running out.

For that reason alone, advancing the Leandro case is a moral imperative. If we are to improve our public education system, increasing funding for schools in areas where funding gaps exist should be a critical priority for state officials. But this has not yet been proven as a priority for the state.

The plaintiffs in the case asked the courts to order the distribution of taxpayers’ money. Under the court’s rule, schools would be better funded and the quality of K-12 education would improve dramatically.

The North Carolina Supreme Court will now hear arguments to assess the state’s two-year budget that the General Assembly passed last November.

Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered state officials to transfer $1.75 billion in public funds to two education agencies and the health department for a catch-up spending plan that would last until in mid-2023.

In light of this, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby instead instructed Special Superior Court Justice Mike Robinson to assess school spending in a new state budget law on March 21 – the same day it was revealed that the state Supreme Court had agreed to expedite appeals of the case.

“I never received a formal notification or explanation,” Lee said in an interview with The Associated Press last month.

When asked why he thought the change had happened, he replied, “My guess is as good as yours.”

Lee is a Democrat, while Robinson and Newby are both Republicans.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, wrote in a tweet that the change “is akin to a losing basketball team changing an umpire in their favor.”

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, echoed Chaudhuri’s sentiments in a subsequent tweet.

“An independent, fair and impartial judicial system is under threat in North Carolina,” she wrote. “Removing Judge Lee from the Leandro case after NC Supreme Court announced a hearing and then firing the veteran Chief Judicial Standards Officer is troubling indeed.”

The plan would be a much-appreciated relief to the state’s education system, especially in the aforementioned counties. The five counties mentioned have one of the highest percentages of minority groups in the state. For example, about 60% of Cumberland County residents identify as non-white, according to census data.

Blocking any form of legislation undermines the state’s education system — and more specifically — the education of minority students.

This is not something the state should be working towards.

@dthopinion

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