RALEIGH, N.C. (December 11, 2019) — As North Carolina has reduced its commitment over the past decade to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide each and every child a sound basic education, the Public School Forum of NC looks forward to partnering with other public education supporters to set our great state on a new path toward realizing the transformational goals and outcomes contained in an expansive new action plan for our public schools.

Court-ordered by Leandro Judge David Lee and published by the independent research organization WestEd, “Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina,” details the steps our state’s leaders must take to ensure that our system of public schools offers an equal opportunity to every young North Carolinian, especially those in our highest-need communities, with a sound basic education, as is mandated in our state constitution and affirmed in the landmark state Supreme Court decision, Leandro v. the State of North Carolina (1997 and 2004).

“We know that in order to become a globally competitive, economically strong state, each and every one of our children needs equitable access to a strong system of public schools, regardless of their geographic or economic background,” said Public School Forum Interim President and Executive Director Dr. Michael D. Priddy. “The challenge of providing these opportunities is great and has only grown with time—and our state leadership has failed to meet its constitutional obligation. We are fortunate to have this new evidence-based action plan in place to provide a way forward so that we can successfully support our system of public schools. Without a renewed commitment to action, our children — and the future of our state — are at risk.”

The WestEd Report identifies eight critical needs that the state must address to ensure each and every child in North Carolina receives a sound basic education. The report also includes a series of recommendations and a sequenced action plan that addresses how to effectively increase support for high-poverty schools,  how to strengthen our access to high quality early childhood education, and a way forward in revising the state’s school funding model to better distribute adequate, efficient and equitable resources, among many other key recommendations.

The report also highlights what the Forum has documented through its annual Local School Finance Study over the past 30 years- there is a widening gap in funding and opportunity between the state’s lowest wealth and higher wealth school districts. Our most recent study found that the local spending gap between the top ten spending counties and bottom ten spending counties has grown from $1,094 per student in 1997 to $2,445 per student in 2017. Supplemental funding for low-wealth and small counties has helped—but this research confirms that it is woefully insufficient. WestEd rightfully points to the need to address inequities by targeting additional funding and support for our most economically disadvantaged schools. 

North Carolina saw substantial progress in student achievement in the 1990s during a period of increased investment in public education. The WestEd researchers note that reductions in funding that started during the 2008 recession and have deepened in recent years are tied to widening achievement gaps and overall declines in student achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 

“As is noted in the WestEd report, the economic imperative to act on the recommendations laid out before us cannot be overstated,” said Public School Forum Chairman of the Board, Dr. Tom Williams. “The ambitious goal of enabling two million 25- through 44-year-olds to obtain a high quality postsecondary credential or degree by 2030 that the MyFutureNC Commission calls on us to achieve will not be possible without a renewed, systematic commitment to our public education system. We are excited to dig into the contents of the WestEd report and urgently move our state toward the constitutional, moral and economic obligation to provide all students with a sound basic education.”

For some background on the history of the Leandro school funding case, click here.

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About Leandro and WestEd
In 1994, five low-wealth school districts sued the state of North Carolina, arguing that students in these districts had been denied their right to an adequate education. Although the NC Supreme Court held in 1997 that the state constitution gives all NC students the right to a “sound, basic education,” they also found in 2004 that in some cases, students were being denied that right. In 2017, the plaintiffs continued to argue that the State continued to deny this right to students in low-wealth counties. As a result, Judge David Lee appointed WestEd, an independent consultant, to recommend ways for North Carolina to comply with the initial Leandro ruling.

About the Public School Forum of North Carolina

Since 1986, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has been an indispensable and nonpartisan champion of public schools and the most trusted source in the state for research and analysis on vital education issues. We bring together leaders from business, education and government to study education issues, develop ideas, seek consensus, and ultimately inform and shape education policy. We do that through research, policy work, innovative programs, advocacy, and continuing education for educators and policymakers. Follow us on Twitter @theNCForum and visit our website at www.ncforum.org.

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