By Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina isn’t doing enough to ensure public school students can obtain a sound basic education, a state judge said Tuesday, agreeing with the findings of an outside consultant.

Superior Court Judge David Lee signed an order accepting conclusions of California-based WestEd, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Lee is overseeing school funding litigation known as “Leandro” that began more than two decades ago.

The group’s 300-page report, released last month, found the state had made little progress providing every child “an opportunity to receive a sound basic education,” which the state Supreme Court declared in 1997 was required by North Carolina’s constitution. In 2004, the state Supreme Court ruled again in a supplemental Leandro case, saying efforts to provide a sound basic education to poor children were inadequate.

“North Carolina’s (prekindergarten to 12th grade) public education system leaves too many students behind — especially students of color and economically disadvantaged students,” Lee wrote in the consent order.

The result is that “thousands of students are not being prepared for full participation in the global, interconnected economy and the society in which they will live, work and engage its citizens,” Lee added.

The WestEd report focused on eight areas for improvement and provided scenarios in which complying with Leandro would cost $8 billion combined over eight years. Lee’s order gives legal parties in the case 60 days to present a plan to address the issues in the report. It’s difficult for a judge to force the legislature, which likely would have to enact many changes, to spend money.

Democrats, including Gov. Roy Cooper, have cited the report as evidence that more education funding is needed. Republicans, particularly in the state Senate, have said that GOP legislators have already increased K-12 funding cumulatively by several billion dollars this decade.

The Leandro case started in 1994 when families from five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming North Carolina was not providing their children with the same educational opportunities as students in higher-income districts. Three years later, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case that the state’s children have a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” A later Supreme Court opinion agreed with a lower court that North Carolina had not lived up to that constitutional requirement for every student.

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