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)

View Full WestEd Report

View Summary of Critical Needs and Recommendations

January 2020 Consent Order

June 2020 Action Plan

Resources Related to School Funding in North Carolina

2019 Local School Finance Study

Education Matters Episode on Fair School Funding

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