Governor’s commission adopts recommendations to improve state’s public schools

Geoff Coltrane, senior education advisor in the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, discusses the commissions recommendations.

The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education approved recommendations Thursday it hopes will help guide defendants and plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro case as they develop a plan to improve North Carolina’s public schools.

The recommendations came two days after Superior Court Judge David Lee signed a consent order in which attorneys for the defendants and plaintiffs agreed to work together to bring the state into compliance with the Leandro ruling. The ruling reaffirmed North Carolina’s constitutional duty to ensure all children have an opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

Lee gave litigants 60 days to submit a plan spelling out how they will meet short-terms goals in the WestEd report, which offers specific recommendations about how to bring North Carolina into compliance with the ruling.

The Governor’s Commission was created by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2017 to develop strategies to help the state live up to its obligation to provide all school children with a quality education.

“Today was a big and important day,” said Commission Chairman Brad Wilson, the former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC. “In the aftermath of the court order this week, the commission formerly adopted our set of recommendations that we hope provide particular and specific guidance to the parties in the litigation.”

Many of the commission’s “core values” lineup with recommendations in the WestEd report. WestEd is an independent consulting firm that was directed by Lee to perform an extensive study of North Carolina’s schools.

The commissions “core values’ include, providing schools with quality staff, teachers and principals, fair pay for educators, equity in funding so that race, ethnicity and geographic location don’t limit access to a quality education and a redesign of the state funding formula.

After 18 months of work, the commission determined that “the state’s current funding formula is not sufficient to ensure every student has access to a sound, basic education.”

WestEd also found that the state comes up short in meeting is constitutional obligation and recommended making higher need students a priority and allowing districts and schools to have more funding flexibility to address local needs.

“This really points directly to thinking about investing dollars in schools and school districts that have student populations that have greater needs, and that it would lift some of the restrictions that have been placed on existing allotment systems in North Carolina in the very near future to create some of that flexibility,” said Jason Willis, director of strategy and performance for WestEd.

Willis joined the commission’s meeting via Skype, along with Susan Mundry, WestEd’s director of learning innovations programs.

He noted that North Carolina’s funding disparity has been made worse by a decline in per pupil spending, which has decreased by about six percent since the 2009-10 school year.

Rick Glazier, a member of the commission and executive director of the N.C. Justice Center (Policy Watch is a project of the Justice Center), called on state leaders to fulfill the constitutional mandate to provide children with a sound, basic education.

“That’s why think this is so historic,” Glazier said. “We now know what the constitution demands. We have a remedy and a plan to get there, and now it’s up to everybody to fulfill the oath they took.”

Wilson said despite “good intentions” North Carolina has failed to meet its obligation to its children.

“As a state, we’re still not there,” Wilson said. “We can now depart from that point and put a plan in place to do something about it rather than arguing over whether or not the constitutional mandate is being met.”

The Leandro case began more than a quarter-century ago after five rural school districts sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue needed to provide students with a quality education.

In 1997, the State Supreme Court stepped in and held that every child has a right to a “sound, basic education under the state constitution.

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