The Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education is getting closer to putting forth recommendations to meet the Leandro mandate. Leandro refers to a two-decade-old court ruling requiring that every child in North Carolina have the opportunity to access a sound, basic education. 

The commission, which includes 19 people, met Tuesday, June 25, to discuss recommendations from the commission’s working groups and to develop a consensus on how to fully realize the Leandro ruling. 

Under Leandro, every classroom must be staffed with a competent, well-trained teacher, and every school must be staffed with a competent, well-trained principal. Leandro requires the state to identify resources needed to ensure that all children — including at-risk students — have an equal opportunity to a sound, basic education.

Gov. Roy Cooper established the Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education on July 21, 2017, to address challenges posed by the Leandro case. The commission has since met several times, but draft recommendations didn’t start to emerge until May 14.

While Tuesday’s meeting featured more discussion of the recommendations, the group didn’t finalize them. The commission plans to hold a future meeting to hear from WestEd, an independent consultant hired to make recommendations to a Superior Court judge in the ongoing Leandro case. 

The recommendations fall into five categories: finance and resources, teachers, principals, early childhood, and assessment and accountability. 

The Finance and Resources Work Group compiled draft priorities to ensure the state’s public education system is adequately funded and resources are adjusted so that a “student’s race, geographic location, and family income level” don’t limit their access to a sound, basic education.

Draft recommendations included adjusting the allotment system to providing more financial support for high-need students. They included modifying funding for charter schools, so that money for new charter schools and enrollment increases are funded by a direct state appropriation.

Other suggestions included ensuring school districts and the Department of Public Instruction are fully funded and properly staffed. 

One requirement of Leandro is every classroom be staffed “with a competent, certified, well-trained teacher who is teaching the standard course of study by implementing effective educational methods that provide differentiated, individualized instruction, assessment, and remediation to the students in the classroom.”

The Teacher Work Group determined the state should adequately fund enough teacher positions, teaching assistants, and instructional support staff to ensure students are getting a quality, personalized education. 

The draft priorities for teachers fall under eight categories: recruitment, preparation, placement, induction, compensation, retention, career pathways, and sliding scales.

The working group for teachers recommended expanding the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, moving teacher pay to the level of other college graduates in the state, and developing common guidelines to prepare teachers to effectively teach reading and mathematics to a broad variety of students.

Ensuring every school is staffed with a quality principal was a priority for the commission. The Principal Working Group suggested expanding the Principal Fellows Program to serve more students and recommended creating a formal statewide mentorship program for beginning assistant principals and principals. 

Principal pay should be based more on experience than a school’s performance, the working group suggested, and the principal pay schedule should be revised to reflect that priority. 

The Early Childhood Working Group said its goal is reducing disparities in children’s outcomes based on race, ethnicity, income, ability, language of origin, geography, gender, and age. 

“Today in North Carolina too many children are not meeting a critical development milestone — reading on grade level by the end of third grade — and there are vast differences in outcomes between racial groups,” the draft priorities document reads.

Expanding the NC Pre-K program was a top priority for the early childhood working group, as was expanding Smart Start. The group recommended increasing funding for more early childhood education programs. 

The state should also make sure that elementary schools are ready to meet the needs of all children and ensure school readiness, the group says.

The Assessment and Accountability Working Group said the state should use the flexibility under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to include a variety of measures of school performance. Doing so would allow the state to get a better picture of how schools are performing.

Other recommendations from this working group include creating a statewide definition for the role of school resource officers, implementing statewide SRO training, and endorsing the state’s focus on improving third-grade reading proficiency levels.