News: Quick Takes

Court rules State Board of Education must stay in Leandro case

Superior Court Judge David Lee has rejected the State Board of Education’s request to be removed as a defendant in the long-standing Leandro case.

The Leandro case started in 1994 when five rural school districts sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise enough tax revenue to provide a quality education, while their wealthier neighbors could.

In 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court held that every child has a right to “a sound, basic education” under the state constitution. The court ruled again in 2004 that the state had not lived up to the Leandro standards set by the previous ruling.

SBE argued on Feb. 15 that the education landscape has changed in North Carolina, and that the board has implemented new policies and programs to ensure access to a sound, basic education.

Lee didn’t buy the board’s line of reasoning.

“The SBE has failed to present convincing evidence that either the impact or effect of these changes and reforms have moved the state nearer to providing children the fundamental right guaranteed by our state constitution,” Lee wrote in the court order.

Lee said the state board also failed to provide sufficient evidence that the Leandro standards were being met.

“These state defendants have the burden of proving that remedial efforts have afforded substantial compliance with the constitutional directives of our Supreme Court,” Lee wrote. “To date, neither defendant has met this burden.”

Lee also said there is an ongoing constitutional violation of every child’s right to receive the opportunity for a sound, basic education, and so the court maintains jurisdiction to address the violations.

“Both state defendants have been proper parties to this litigation since its inception and each remain so,” Lee wrote.

Bill Cobey, the chairman of the state board, said he disagrees with the court’s decision.

“I’m not going to have any public comment until we have a chance for the board to confer,” Cobey said.

Scott Bayzle, one of the attorneys representing the Leandro plaintiffs, said the court’s decision is extremely important to the “hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren across North Carolina.”

“There remain serious, ongoing constitutional violations detrimentally impacting children across North Carolina,” Bayzle wrote in an email. “This order confirms that it is the ultimate responsibility of the state, which includes the State Board of Education, to address and correct these violations. …The children of this state deserve no less.”