- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The judge overseeing a 20-year-old lawsuit wants to know whether North Carolina officials are trying to define their way out of their duty to educate all of the state’s children.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to examine whether state education officials are obeying their constitutional obligation to give every North Carolina child the opportunity to have a sound, basic education.

Manning was selected by the state Supreme Court to oversee compliance with its decisions in the Leandro case, which started in 1995 as a lawsuit seeking help for students in poor parts of the state.

Manning wants the state to explain a decision last March by the State Board of Education changing the definition of who is learning at grade level. The change waters down requirements and buries it in “academic double speak,” Manning wrote in an order scheduling the two-day hearing in Raleigh.

The school board’s new five-level measure of student achievement includes a mid-range score that deems tested third-graders as prepared for the next grade level but requiring continuing help from a teacher to perform successfully in fourth grade, Manning said.

Despite the claim of student readiness, “they are NOT solidly at grade level and are NOT well prepared for the next grade which is the Leandro definition of obtaining a sound, basic education at grade level,” Manning wrote. “If it looks like a pig, smells like a pig and snorts like a pig __ it’s a pig.”

Manning has complained for years that thousands of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students reach their teenage years barely able to read or do simple math.

The State Board of Education is being represented by Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office. The attorney on the case did not respond to a request for comment and Cooper’s spokeswoman declined comment before the hearing.

The state Supreme Court ruled in the Leandro case, named for one of the plaintiffs, that it’s not up to judges to determine the constitutionally required level of spending on education. But students must have the opportunity to become equipped with the knowledge and skills in language, math, history, economics and other subjects they need to compete for a job or higher education and become a functioning member of society, the high court said.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.

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