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Budget Cuts Mean NC Is Failing Students, Say Districts In Leandro Case

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Lawyers representing low-income school districts say North Carolina has abandoned its efforts to make sure it provides all students a sound, basic education.  They say budget cuts are keeping the state from living up to its commitment. They’re asking a judge to hold a hearing on the matter in August. 

WFAE’s Lisa Miller joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey to discuss:

MR: Lisa, this is part of a long-running case. Why are these districts making this complaint now? 

LM: They say recent cuts have really hurt the quality of education the state can deliver, not just to their students, but to students across the state. And they say that’s partly why we’re seeing more kids not scoring proficient on end of year tests. Melanie Dubis is a lawyer who represents these counties. I spoke with her today and here’s what she said.

DUBIS: It’s the fact that the state has depleted those resources to teachers, principal training, funding and resources aimed at at-risk children. That’s been occurring over the last five years and we think the test scores are the result of that. 

LM: Those are some of the areas the state promised to focus resources on as a way to comply with previous Supreme Court rulings in this case. And as you said, yes, this is part of a 20 year long case, referred to as the Leandro case. 

MR: Also, Lisa, these tests did get a lot harder last year, right?

LM: Yes, they did. Initially, that grading got harder too. But then the state board of education added an extra level to make it easier to pass the test. These districts contend that’s just an attempt to mask the number of students who are not receiving an opportunity for a sound, basic education. 

MR: What does the state have to say about this?

LM: President Pro-Tem Phil Berger’s office pointed out that four of the five districts leading the lawsuit receive more than the state per pupil average and if more money was the only factor in these children’s education, their performance would also be above the state average. However, rulings in this suit say that at-risk students require more resources. 

MR: And just how is this part of the Leandro case?   

LM: There’s a hearing at least once a year to monitor how the state is doing with providing kids a “sound, basic education.” But this hearing would be different since it’s the lawyers for the school districts saying the state is going back on its word. They called one a couple years ago after state lawmakers cut the number of children eligible for the state’s pre-kindergarten program, so it would be in that vein.