In 1994, five school districts in low-wealth counties along with families filed a lawsuit against the state (Leandro v. State of North Carolina) arguing that their school districts did not have enough money to provide an equal education for their children, despite the fact that they taxed their residents higher than average. Twenty-five years later, the Leandro case remains one of the biggest education policy issues in North Carolina — and those counties — Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance, and Cumberland — which were among the lowest funded in the state, remain toward the bottom of our rankings in terms of their ability to support public schools on a per pupil basis.
Twice the Supreme Court has ruled (1997, 2004) that North Carolina has a constitutional obligation to ensure all children have access to a sound basic education that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals, as well as equitable access to sufficient resources. Our research, however, has demonstrated that our state continues to fall short to meet that constitutional obligation, as affirmed by the Leandro rulings.
In 2018, Judge Lee ordered WestEd, an independent educational consultant, to recommend ways for the State of North Carolina to comply with the Leandro rulings. On December 10th, 2019, WestEd released their findings and a sequenced action plan to meet the State’s constitutional obligation. Read our full statement about their report here.
“Because the North Carolina Constitution expressly states that units of local governments with financial responsibility for public education may provide additional funding about their doing so or in any inequality of opportunity occurring as a result… Clearly then, a county with greater financial resources will be able to supplement its programs to a greater degree than less wealthy counties, resulting in enhanced educational opportunity for its students.” –Leandro v. State, 488 S.E.2d 249 (N.C. 1997)
Since 2018, parties to the Leandro case have developed a comprehensive, 8 year remedial plan identifying targeted investments in public education that North Carolina must make in order to ensure all children have access to a sound basic education. In 2021, Judge Lee ordered defendants in the Leandro case to take action to implement the remedial plan. However, Judge Lee’s order was appealed.
In March 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the Leandro case after the case was returned to the superior court to account for a state budget passed in late 2021. Judge Lee was also replaced at this time with Judge Michael Robinson who ultimately ruled that the state was responsible to fund the comprehensive remedial plan but could not be ordered to do so.
The North Carolina Supreme Court announced in June 2022 that it would hear the case in August.