Leandro is a decades-long court case in North Carolina. It began in 1994 when five of the state's most economically disadvantaged counties sued the state and the State Board of Education. They argued that their students were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in higher-income counties. The lawsuit established our state constitutional right to access a sound, basic education. Here we are in 2022, and it still goes on.
The North Carolina Supreme Court decided the case in favor of the counties, affirming the fundamental right of every child to have access to a sound, basic education. That was in 1997.
In 2004, the Court unanimously established 'the Leandro Tenets.' They were
- that every classroom must be staffed with a well-trained, competent teacher
- that every school must be led gy a well-trained, competent principal
- that every school must be provided resources so that the educational needs of all children, including at-risk children, must have equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.
That decision also said that the state has an obligation to those tenets that cannot be abdicated by transferring responsibility to local boards of education.
The matter was then sent back to a trial court for a remedy.
Over the next five years, the General Assembly did spend $1.09 billion on programs designed to achieve the mandated tenets. But in the next five years (2010-2015) North Carolina dropped to 46th in the nation in teacher salaries; Teaching Fellows Scholarships were eliminated in 2011, and a Funding for Future Teachers Scholarship/Loan program was eliminated in 2012. Teacher assisant positions were cut and funding for teacher assistants was reduced. Other reductions to educational funding were also made.
That resulted in more at-risk children with fewer resources from the state.
The plaintiffs filed a motion for a new remedial plan. In February 2018, the court appointed an independent consultant. The consultant submitted a plan in December 2019.
The court ruled again that North Carolina was not meeting its constitutional requirement. That was in June of last year.
In March 2022, the State Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the Leandro case again after the case was returned to the superior court to account for a state budget passed in late 2021.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby ordered at the same time that Judge David Lee be replaced by Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson.
Robinson set out a timetable for parties to deliver their takes on what impact the passage of the budget should have on the previous order by Judge Lee. Two weeks after that hearing, Robinson issued an order on April 26th finding the state underfunded the Leandro Plan by $785 million, but did not order the money to be transferred from the state treasury to state agencies. One of the issues is whether a ruling by the State Supreme Court that results in the expenditure of money on public schools is binding on the legislature.
Oral arguments on the case, once again before the State Supreme Court, were scheduled for Wednesday (August 31st).