By Mary Ann Wolf
It has been nearly 30 years since the beginning of North Carolina’s school funding case known as Leandro, which was filed by plaintiffs in five poor school districts who gave voice to the fact that their children couldn’t get the education they deserved. Since that time, it has been repeatedly found that our state has not been providing the resources or public policies required to meet the fundamental needs of each and every one of our students across our state.
Those problems remain with us today, as WRAL spotlighted in their recent documentary. Reporter Cristin Severance spent weeks understanding how one of the original Leandro school districts, Halifax County Schools, grapples with inadequate resources directed to their public schools, and the impact this reality has on their district’s students.
Seeing this reporting and knowing that these issues still persist today are hard to understand when we have a strong roadmap in place for solving these problems — and a court order in place that directs billions of dollars to invest in the solutions that will serve our children’s academic, social and emotional needs.
On Education Matters, we’ve taken some deep dives into the issues and policy solutions that serve as the building blocks for a high-quality educational experience for all. From revising school finance and accountability systems to developing robust initiatives around teacher and principal recruitment and retention, the long-term, Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan offers strong directives in these areas, and many stakeholders have come on our show to explain how to turn these ideas into action. Our superintendents shared why this matters for kids. Investments are needed to maximize the opportunities, access, and outcomes for our students and to prepare them for college, career, and citizenship.
The plan also emphasizes the need to focus investments on the whole child, by providing funding that increases the number of School Instructional Support Personnel, or SISP (school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists) to begin to meet national guidelines, initially prioritizing high-poverty schools. This is an important area of investment that we have highlighted repeatedly, as we know that students’ basic physical and emotional needs must be met before they can be ready to learn. And throughout the key areas addressed in the 8-year action plan, the investments and subsequent work that is laid out can ultimately serve to take important steps towards addressing the systemic inequities that exist for so many of our students — especially students of color and low-income students.
Addressing each of these and other critical issues requires investments – which means funding. With the appropriate policies and resources, the investments will help address the immediate needs of our schools and districts as we begin the recovery from COVID-19; and they will also support critical areas for long-term efforts to ensure that every child in NC will graduate prepared for college, career, and engaged citizenship. North Carolina is fortunate to have resources available to address the needs of our schools and students, the understanding of what is needed, and the will of education stakeholders and policymakers to enact purposeful and effective policies. We must use this critical point in time to lay the groundwork for accelerating investments and innovations in education for all of our students.
Our schools, districts, and communities do not just need or ask for more money for the sake of having more money. The need, as it has been for decades, is for investments in these specific and other critical areas that research has shown make a difference for students.