Attorneys filed an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief endorsed by a coalition of 144 education, civil rights, philanthropic, and community-based organizations with the North Carolina Supreme Court this week in the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit.
The brief was filed by lawyers with the law firm Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey and Leonard and the North Carolina Justice Center as the court prepares to hear arguments in the case next month. [Note: Policy Watch is a project of the Justice Center.]
At issue is approximately $785 million Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson, the judge overseeing the case, says the state owes public schools as part of an $8 billion school improvement plan that grew out of a report by WestEd, a consulting firm hired to examine North Carolina’s public education system.
The brief contends the state has consistently failed to provide every child in North Carolina with access to the educational opportunities to which they are constitutionally entitled under the previous rulings in the case and calls on the Supreme Court to order the dispersal of state funds necessary to comply improvement plan.
The brief also features research conducted by the Public School Forum North Carolina and community input from a coalition of 144 education, civil rights, philanthropic, and community-based organizations.
The Leandro case began nearly three decades ago after five rural school districts in low-wealth counties 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 issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.
The coalition reports a $4.6 billion increase in public education costs for enrollment, salaries, and benefits between 2004 and today. State funding for public schools, however, has only increased by $4.1 billion since 2004, leading to a shortfall of approximately $500 million, the coalition stated in the brief.
The gap does not include other cost drivers such as fuel for school buses, supplies and materials, and technology, the coalition said.
Among the ways the coalition contends the shortfall in state funding is reflected in current public education system:
- North Carolina’s per-pupil expenditure by state and local sources (adjusted for local costs) ranks 48thout of 50 states and the District of Columbia, with $9,954 per pupil, an amount that is $4,594 less than the national average per pupil. South Carolina by comparison ranks 24thin the country with a per pupil expenditure of $14,090 and Virginia ranks 35th at $12,714 per pupil. In short, the amount available for local school districts to spend on public education is significantly less than the amount available to districts in neighboring states.
- The State is funding fewer teacher and teacher assistant positions on a per-student basis than it funded in the 2003-04 school year.
- Teacher compensation has declined since 2004. Had teacher pay maintained parity with inflation since 2004, average teacher pay would have been $61,033 in the 2020-21school year. Instead, the actual average teacher pay was $53,458.
- North Carolina ranked 46thin the country for average salaries of instructional staff for the 2020-21 school year, significantly lower salaries than its neighbors: South Carolina’s average salary was $60,608 (30th in the U.S.) and Virginia’s was $60,880 (29th in the U.S.).
- According to the most recent data (covering the years 2014 to 2018), North Carolina teachers earn 26.5 percent less than their similar-aged peers with college degrees, the 7th worst wage gap in the nation.
Click here to explore the brief.