News: CJ Exclusives

Leandro plan awaits judge in Superior Court; no hearing date set

Melanie Dubis, the attorney representing the Leandro plaintiffs, argues before Superior Court Judge David Lee in February 2018. (CJ photo)
Melanie Dubis, the attorney representing the Leandro plaintiffs, argues before Superior Court Judge David Lee in February 2018. (CJ photo)

A plan for North Carolina to provide an opportunity for a sound, basic education to all students now waits with a judge in Superior Court.

On Monday, March 15, defendants in the long-running Leandro lawsuit, in consultation with plaintiffs in the case, submitted a document called the Comprehensive Remedial Plan to Superior Court Judge David Lee.  The plan was mandated in consent orders Lee issued in January 2020 and September.

All parties in the case have agreed to the plan’s components.  Lee will next call a hearing for the case, although details haven’t been decided.

Lee, the court-appointed overseer of the Leandro case, approved a plan Sept. 1, calling for millions more in education spending to meet North Carolina’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education to every child.

But the General Assembly, whose constitutional duty it is to appropriate money, wasn’t involved in the decision.

During the virtual Sept 1. meeting, Lee said he would sign a consent order that included an action plan amounting to $427 million for fiscal 2021. Much of the money would be used for teacher salary raises and funding for at-risk students. The parties in the case, which include the State Board of Education and the state of North Carolina, made the plan in June as a first step toward ensuring all students have access to a quality education.  The total cost of the plan outlined by California-based education consulting firm WestEd is $8 billion in additional education spending over eight years.

Republican lawmakers have made it clear they prefer the previous judge who oversaw the case, Judge Howard Manning. Manning presided over Leandro until his retirement in 2015.

In a WRAL interview, Manning denounced the idea that more money would solve the state’s education challenges. He emphasized the importance of making sure young children were proficient in reading and basic math before moving on to higher grade levels. More money wouldn’t necessarily accomplish this, the retired judge said.

The Comprehensive Remedial Plan doesn’t directly force the General Assembly to appropriate any money, but it does call on the parties to secure cooperation and assistance from the legislature to implement the plan.

The overriding fear is the lawsuit will lead to judges legislating from the bench. That’s the constitutional role of lawmakers in the General Assembly.

The Comprehensive Remedial Plan draws from a more than 300-page-report from WestEd. In 2017, the parties agreed to hire an outside consultant to draft recommendations for how the state could meet the Leandro mandate. They selected WestEd, which delivered a report to Lee in July 2019. It also draws on recommendations from Gov. Roy Cooper’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education.

Legislators weren’t consulted.

“The WestEd report is little more than a hodgepodge of recommendations designed to satisfy politicians, technocrats, and other elites that want to spend billions more on North Carolina public schools,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the John Locke Foundation’s Center for Effective Education.

The consent order acknowledges the legislature has a role, but neither Lee nor the parties have made any serious attempts to consult lawmakers, Stoops said.