Making a better future for the next generation in North Carolina.

The Leandro Plan — If We Want a Nurturing Future for the Next Generation, What’s the Big Deal?

May 31, 2024 | Education, Future, North Carolina | 1 comment

By Tom Fehsenfeld

Back in February, I reprinted an article from NC Newsline by Kris Nordstrom about North Carolina’s Leandro case. The Leandro v. State of North Carolina case is a landmark education funding lawsuit that began in 1994 and has continued to the present day. The case was filed by low-income students and families who argued that the state was not providing adequate educational opportunities as required by the NC constitution. In 2021 Judge David Lee ordered the state to allocate $1.7 billion to meet the requirements outlined in the Leandro case. The NC General Assembly addressed many of the requirements, but has balked at the last $678 million. Instead it asked the NC Supreme Court to reverse its previous decisions on the case.

What would full funding of the Leandro Plan accomplish for the next generation?

Kris Nordstrom summed it up pretty well when he wrote the Leandro Plan will would do all of the following:

  • Eliminate the waitlist for a child care subsidy;
  • Provide a high-quality NC Pre-K slot for all eligible four-year-olds;
  • Increase the number of classroom teachers by 14 percent;
  • Add nearly 8,000 teacher assistants, reversing a decade’s worth of cuts that have coincided with declining early-grade reading scores;
  • Staff school nurses, psychologists, social workers, and counselors at industry-recommended levels;
  • Dramatically increase funding and supports for students with disabilities; 
  • Restore funding for teacher training, textbooks, and school supplies; and
  • Pass a statewide school construction bond to make our schools healthier and safer for learning.

The 30-year history of the Leandro case (skip this if you know it)

1. In 1994, five low-income school districts in North Carolina, along with families and students, filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that it had failed to provide a “sound basic education” as required by the state constitution.

2. In 1997, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, affirming that the state constitution guarantees every child the right to a “sound basic education.” The Court defined this as having sufficient skills to compete in the job market, participate in society, and pursue higher education.

3. In 2002, the court found that the state had failed to provide adequate resources to ensure that all students, particularly those in low-income districts, received a sound basic education.

4. In 2004, the court ordered the state to provide additional funding and resources to low-income school districts.

5. Over the following years, the state implemented various measures to address the court’s ruling, but progress was slow and contentious.

6. In 2017, an independent consultant was appointed to assess the state’s progress and recommend further actions.

7. In 2020, the consultant released a comprehensive report, known as the “WestEd report,” which found that the state was still failing to provide adequate resources and support to ensure all students received a sound basic education.

8. In 2021, a North Carolina Superior Court judge ordered the state to implement a comprehensive remedial plan, including significant increases in education funding, based on the recommendations in the WestEd report.

9. The General Assembly appealed the decision, and in November 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, ordering the state to transfer funds to implement the remedial plan.

10. In 2024, the General Assembly again appealed , asking the NC Supreme Court to reverse its ruling, and we are awaiting its ruling.

Would it be a big deal to just go ahead and fund it?

So, the lawyers have made their arguments at the NC Supreme Court. After the switch in party control of the court, it could very likely throw out the Leandro case and send all decisions on school funding back to the General Assembly. What then? Regardless of how the court decides, what should the General Assembly do?

As I wrote in a previous post, Education Stars of 2034? It Won’t Be the Children of North Carolina, education funding and the quality of public schools in North Carolina has lagged far behind most states. That might explain the growing demand for private school vouchers. If the NC public schools had the resources to offer a great education, most parents would not be looking for alternatives. If we could truly provide all the benefits Kris Nordstrom outlined with an extra $678 million, should the NC General Assembly provide it?

Here’s the punch line

For all the whining that certain members of the General Assembly have done about the Leandro plan, they have actually provided the majority of its funding. Also, the final $678 million would not be a big deal for us, the taxpayers of the state.

I ran the figures today. Based on last year’s state revenues, we could fund the whole plan by raising our state income tax rate from 4.7% to 4.9%. Would I pay an extra 0.2% in income tax to boost the educational chances for our kids’ future? You bet I would. Would you?

Alternatively — for those who don’t like to burden income tax payers so much — we could split the funding evenly between income tax and sales tax. The numbers come out to $697 million in extra revenue by just raising the income tax rate to 4.8% and taking sales tax from 4.75% to 4.9%.

If we want to make North Carolina a nurturing state for the next generation, we need to make sure each of our kids get that sound basic education. We promised that to them in the NC constitution. It wouldn’t take much from any one of us to make it happen. The General Assembly could get it done this summer between holiday breaks. The kids are counting on us to step up.



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1 Comment

  1. Terry Van Duyn

    The WestEnd Report you mentioned in #7 had some good news. Before the General Assembly cut funding for early childhood programs, we made steady progress in closing the achievement gap. Deep cuts to Smart Start and failure to adequately fund NC Pre-K have reversed that progress. Early childhood programs work, and they provide the best return on investment in education. If you believe in North Carolina’s future, it makes no sense not to fund education from birth through post-secondary education.


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