View a printable fact sheet on Leandro.
Watch our February 7, 2024 webinar as Duke Law Professor Jane Wettach and former UNC Law School Dean Jack Boger discuss the history and importance of the Leandro case: Is the NC Supreme Court Poised to Undo Leandro?
Watch the February 22, 2024 Leandro Case oral arguments before the NC Supreme Court.
See how Leandro remediations would impact your school district’s budget.
We’ve created social media images like the one below that show the impact of Leandro funding on each county. Find your county and share on social media!
On November 4, 2022 the N.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling that the Legislature must fund years two and three of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan (Leandro Plan).
The majority opinion states: “This Court has long recognized that our Constitution empowers the judicial branch with inherent authority to address constitutional violations through equitable remedies. For twenty-five years, the judiciary has deferred to the executive and legislative branches to implement a comprehensive solution to this ongoing constitutional violation. Today, that deference expires. If this Court is to fulfill its own constitutional obligations, it can no longer patiently wait for the day, year, or decade when the State gets around to acting on its constitutional duty ‘to guard and maintain’ the constitutional rights of North Carolina schoolchildren.”
November 8, 2022 elections shifted the N.C. Supreme Court majority to 5-2 Republican members. In 2023, several suits were filed to halt the transfer of funds and to revisit issues in the case. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the cases, but no date has been set. No funds have been transferred to the districts or communities.
On August 31, 2022, the N.C. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.
Read the informative piece from a former NC Supreme Court chief justice and a former president of the NC Bar Association: General Assembly undermines rule of law.
In December 2021, several low-wealth school districts and families that attend the schools asked the N.C. Supreme Court to review the decision to block the $1.7 billion funds transfer.
On November 30, the N.C. Court of Appeals, on a 2-1 vote, blocked Judge Lee’s decision stating that he did not have the authority to order the budget transfer.
At a hearing on November 10th, 2021 Judge Lee ordered North Carolina to move $1.7 billion in available funds to implement the first two years of the Leandro plan. He issued a 30 day stay with the order giving the state an opportunity to comply.
Legislative leaders responded by calling Judge Lee “rogue” and indicated they plan to fight the order. This decision is not about politics, Judge Lee explained during the hearing, but about the most vulnerable students in our state. He explained that the state constitution is a mandate from the will of the people and since the legislature hasn’t met their obligation to provide every child with a sound, basic education, he needed to intervene. He further explained that neither party in the last 17 years has offered a remediation plan like the West Ed report.
We know the disparities between schools in high-poverty and affluent areas have only grown over the last several years. A generation of students has already missed critical education opportunities. It is vitally important we address these issues now. Rural and low-income counties would see the biggest improvements from the Leandro remediation plan, but all 1.5 million students in our state would benefit.
We will likely hear counter-arguments including;
- The court doesn’t have the authority to order the NCGA to appropriate funds.
- Increases in funding do not show improvements in education.
- NC doesn’t have the funding available.
The disputes around judicial authority in the Leandro case are very similar to the overreach arguments set forth in Brown v Board. Compelling arguments can be made for both sides and the final outcome will likely be determined in court. An excellent article from Kris Nordstrom of NC Policy Watch explains the numerous benefits of increasing education funding here! And finally, North Carolina is anticipated to have an additional $6.5 billion in revenue through the next biennium. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do the right thing for our kids and the future of NC. It is unconscionable to deny students their constitutional right any longer We can, we should and we must fund Leandro!
Read Every Child NC’s statement on the order here
At a hearing on October 18, Judge Lee indicated he was not willing to wait for a compromise budget that may not fully fund Leandro. Judge Lee gave plaintiffs in the Leandro case until November 1 to draft an order that would compel the NCGA to fund Leandro remediations. Attorneys for the defendants will have until November 8 to respond.
At a hearing September 8, 2021 State Superior Court Judge David Lee told state lawmakers they had until October 18, 2021 to fully fund a plan for improving public education. He indicated if they were not in compliance by then, he would take direct action. In some other states, judges have levied fines against lawmakers or held them in contempt. It is not clear what might happen in this case. The court order for the remedial plan was signed by Judge W. David Lee on June 7, 2021.
Previously, at a hearing on April 13, 2021 Judge David Lee indicated that he had no plans to direct lawmakers to spend a specific amount on the remediations set forth from the comprehensive Leandro plan. The comprehensive Leandro Remedial plan was finally submitted to court on March 15, 2021 . This plan details how North Carolina will meet its obligation to provide every child with a sound, basic education and meet the recommendations set forth in the WestEd Report. The full report can be accessed here.
What’s in the plan?
The Joint Leandro Action plan calls for $427 million in new state education funding this year as the first phase of an eight-year plan. Much of the new money this year would go toward raises for teachers, more funding for at-risk students and expanding early childhood education programs. The full text of the plan can be found here. Included were seven components that any plan of action must include. These are:
- A system of teacher development and recruitment that ensures each classroom is staffed with a high-quality teacher who is supported with early and ongoing professional learning and provided competitive pay.
- A system of principal development and recruitment that ensures each school is led by a high-quality principal who is supported with early and ongoing professional learning and provided competitive pay.
- A finance system that provides adequate, equitable, and predictable funding to school districts and, importantly, adequate resources to address the needs of all North Carolina schools and students, especially at-risk-students as defined by the Leandro decisions.
- An assessment and accountability system that reliably assess multiple measures of student performance against the Leandro standard and provides accountability consistent with the Leandro standard.
- An assistance and turnaround function that provides necessary support to low-performing schools and districts.
- A system of early education that provides access to high-quality pre-kindergarten and other early childhood learning opportunities to ensure that all students at-risk of educational failure, regardless of where they live in the State, enter kindergarten on track for school success.
- An alignment of high school to postsecondary and career expectations, as well as the provision of early postsecondary and workforce learning opportunities, to ensure student readiness to all students in the state.
Read more about the order here.
The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education adopted its final report in 2020. Early childhood education, improving teacher pay, expanding the N.C. Teaching Fellows and changing the system of giving schools an A through F grade based on their performance were some priorities mentioned. The Commission also mirrored the WestEd report in finding that state education funding is inadequate. Read the Commission’s priorities and WestEd’s recommendations for Phase 1 of their action plan here.
Read more on this important development here
In the beginning of 202, we featured information about the Leandro ruling in our newsletters. Check them out for more information! Also, check out our fact sheet on Leandro for a more concise overview.
Sound, Basic Education for All: The Leandro Ruling
The North Carolina Constitution states that the state must provide a sound, basic education for all children. The statues below clearly indicate that school operating costs are the state’s responsibility.
“The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.” N.C. Const. art. I, § 15.
“The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 2.
“State school fund. The proceeds of all lands…moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to the State for purposes of public education…shall be paid into the State Treasury and, together with so much of the revenue of the State as may be set apart for that purpose, shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 6.
Leandro v. State Litigation
In 1994, in Leandro v. State cases, parents, students and school districts in low-wealth, rural counties filed a lawsuit alleging that students in these counties were denied their right to a sound basic education under the NC constitution.
The case affirmed that inequitable and inadequate school funding bars access to a sound and basic public education, particularly for students of color and those from families with low incomes.
The NC Supreme Court allowed the case to go to trial in 1997. In 2002, the court found that there was a violation of the students’ rights to a sound, basic education and ordered the State to remedy this violation by providing:
- A “competent, certified, well-trained teacher who is teaching the standard course of study” in every classroom;
- A “well-trained, competent principal with the leadership skills and ability to hire and retain competent, certified and well-trained teachers” in every school; and
- The “resources necessary to support the effective instructional program” in every school “so that the educational needs of all children, including at-risk children, to have an equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education, can be met.”
Since this time there have been some efforts to comply with this ruling such as expanding preschool for at-risk four-year olds. The Plaintiffs maintain over the last nearly two decades that the State has not met its constitutional requirements for a sound basic education for all at the annual review of how the State is addressing Leandro rulings.
In 2017, the Plaintiff parties, including the Plaintiff-Intervenor, Charlotte-Mecklenberg Branch of the NAACP, and the State jointly asked the courts for an order to appoint an independent expert consultant to develop recommendations for the State aligned to the three Leandro elements listed above for a sound basic education.
In March 2018, Judge David Lee, responsible for oversight of the state’s implementation of the Leandro decision, appointed WestEd (a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency headquartered in San Francisco) to conduct the research project and submit recommendations by March 2019.
The report was submitted to the court in June 2019 and released to the public on December 10, 2019.
On September 1, 2020, Judge David Lee signed a consent order in the Leandro case. The plan required an additional $426.9 million in state funds with about $237 million for teachers. On September 3, 2020, the NC General Assembly convened to appropriate CARES Act money and left town with no response to the consent order. In December 2020, Judge Lee granted an extension to the Governor and the NC State Board of Education to allow them more time to present their 8-year plan for implementing the WestEd recommendations.
The State Board of Education and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s Administration filed a joint Leandro action plan on June 15, 2020. This plan was drafted in response to an earlier consent order, issued by Judge Lee, on January 21, 2020. Read the full document here. The consent order was based on the recommendations from the WestEd report. Judge Lee initially required the State of NC and the NC State Board of Education to develop a plan of action within 60 days. It was later extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March the Comprehensive Remedial Plan, was submitted to the court, and a summary was released in June. The plan includes programs and action steps aligned to the seven essential components (based on West Ed’s recommendations) for how N.C. can comply with the directive to provide a sound, basic education to all children.
These components are:
- A system of teacher development and recruitment that ensures each classroom is staffed with a high-quality teacher who is supported with early and ongoing professional learning and provided competitive pay;
- A system of principal development and recruitment that ensures each school is led by a high-quality principal who is supported with early and ongoing professional learning and provided competitive pay;
- A finance system that provides adequate, equitable, and predictable funding to school districts and, importantly, adequate resources to address the needs of all North Carolina schools and students, especially at-risk students as defined by the Leandro decisions;
- An assessment and accountability system that reliably assesses multiple measures of student performance against the Leandro standard and provides accountability consistent with the Leandro standard;
- An assistance and turnaround function that provides necessary support to low-performing schools and districts;
- A system of early education that provides access to high-quality prekindergarten and other early childhood learning opportunities to ensure that all students at risk of educational failure, regardless of where they live in the State, enter kindergarten on track for school success; and
- An alignment of high school to postsecondary and career expectations, as well as the provision of early postsecondary and workforce learning opportunities, to ensure student readiness to all students in the state.
Over the course of summer and fall 2021, Judge Lee issued orders requiring the legislature to report on its progress in funding education as required under the plan. In October, Judge Lee found that the legislature had not finalized an appropriations bill that would fully fund education and issued an order requesting a response from the legislature by November 1.
- November 10: After receiving no response from the legislature, Judge Lee issued a decision to move more than $1.7 billion in appropriated state funds into education budgets to fund the initial provisions of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan. Although the 2021-23 budget did increase educational spending, it fell far short of the funds needed for full Leandro remediation.
- November 30: The N.C. Court of Appeals, on a 2-1 vote, blocked Judge Lee’s decision stating that he did not have the authority to order the budget transfer.
- December: Several low-wealth school districts and families that attend the schools asked the N.C. Supreme Court to review the decision to block the $1.7 billion funds transfer.
The North Carolina Justice Center filed a motion to submit an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs on July 19. On July 26, a group of leading education rights scholars and advocates filed an amicus brief outlining extensive judicial precedent from states across the county supporting the state courts’ right to direct funding to remedy a constitutional violation.
- August 31: The N.C. Supreme Court heard oral arguments.
- November 4: The N.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the Legislature to fund years two and three of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan.
- November 8: State elections shifted the makeup of the Supreme Court from 4-3 Democratic majority to 5-2 Republican majority.
Multiple suits were filed to prevent or delay transfer of funds to school districts based on the November 4, 2022, ruling.
- February 8: N.C. Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore filed suit to halt the transfer of funds until issues are resolved regarding separation of powers and the requirement for the state to provide a sound basic education to its students. State Controller Nels Roseland also asked the Supreme Court to pause the order to transfer funds until it hears arguments over whether funds can be transferred without legislative direction.
- March 3: The N.C. Supreme Court agreed to the state Controller’s request to halt transfer of funds until issues related to the case are resolved.
- October 20: The N.C. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments related to Leandro. One issue is whether it is appropriate to consider a statewide remedy or just pertain to the counties that were part of the original lawsuit. Critics claim that previous decisions in the decades-long case established the need for a statewide remedy. The date for oral arguments will likely be set in 2024.
After nearly three decades of litigation, North Carolina legislative leadership is still refusing to fully fund The Comprehensive Remedial Plan—Leandro—leaving schools, students, families, and communities without essential resources. The Appropriations Act of 2023 funds fewer Leandro provisions than the previous budget. For example, there is no new funding for early childhood education despite documented need across the state, especially in poor, rural counties.
Read the WestEd Report on Leandro to understand the recommendations and challenges.
The findings and recommendations in the WestEd report address the following critical needs:
1. Revise the state funding model to provide adequate, efficient, and equitable resources. These resources should be aligned to student needs in every school and district.
2. Provide a qualified, well-prepared, and diverse teaching staff in every school. Working conditions and staffing structures should enable all staff members to do their job effectively and grow professionally while supporting the academic, personal, and social growth of all their students.
3. Provide a qualified and well-prepared principal in every school. Principals should be prepared and supported to effectively lead continuous school improvement; support the use of a well-designed curriculum aligned with state standards; and establish a culture in which all students feel welcome, safe, supported, and challenged as learners.
4. Provide all at-risk students with the opportunity to attend high-quality early childhood programs. These programs should develop all students’ personal, social, cognitive, and language skills in order to prepare them to begin kindergarten fully ready to learn.
5. Direct resources, opportunities, and initiatives to economically disadvantaged students. A strong focus should be placed on addressing the needs of economically disadvantaged students to address the greater challenges in those contexts
6. Revise the student assessment system and school accountability system. The systems should provide the information needed by educators, parents, policymakers, and others about the educational effectiveness of each school and about the learning and progress of individual children and of subgroups of children. The system should also produce data to inform the evaluation and continuous improvement of educational programs and to enable the Court to track progress, identify areas of concern, and monitor compliance with the Leandro requirements.
7. Build an effective regional and statewide system of support for the improvement of low-performing and high-poverty schools. The state should define its approach to school improvement and develop the state system for assisting low-performing and high-poverty schools to: recruit and retain effective staff; provide high-quality professional development; use evidence-based instructional practices and curriculum; create effective school cultures; provide student supports; use data for continuous improvement; engage families; and foster collaborations across schools and districts.
8. Convene an expert panel to assist the Court in monitoring state policies, plans, programs, and progress. This monitoring should ensure the state’s ongoing compliance with the Leandro requirements.
Read our recent newsletters detailing the above recommendations here:
- February 22, 2020 Leandro Critical Need #8 Monitor North Carolina’s Compliance
- February 15, 2020 Leandro Critical Need#7 Support for School Improvement
- February 8, 2020 Leandro Critical Need #6 Revise the Student Assessment System
- February 1, 2020 Leandro Critical Need #5 High Poverty Schools
- January 25, 2020 Leandro Critical Need #4: Early Childhood Education
- January 18, 2020 Leandro Critical Need#3: A Qualified and Well-Prepared Principal in Every School
- January 11, 2020 Leandro Critical Need#2 A Qualified and Well Prepared Teacher in Every Classroom
- January 4, 2020 Leandro Critical Need #1 Welcome Back – Here’s a Quick Update on Leandro!
The well-researched report details findings about the current state of education in NC and presents recommended actions that the state must take in order to fulfill its constitutional obligation to ALL children in our state. Remediations are separated into three phases of implementation based on priority. The three phases are outlined below.
Phase I: FY 2020-2021 Highest-priority actions that require immediate attention, are fundamental to the success of other actions, and build critical capacity to sustain improvement.
Phase II: FY 2022-2023 Prioritized actions that build on Phase I commitments, depend on capacity built by Phase I actions, and/or serve to initiate additional capacity-building efforts critical to success of future efforts.
Phase III: FY 2024-2027 Actions that continue to build on Phase I and II commitments and are sequenced to further build capacity for successful implementation and sustainability of efforts.
Commission on Access to Sound, Basic Education
The Plaintiffs in the Leandro case maintain that since the Leandro ruling in 1996 and the subsequent Hoke County board of education ruling in 2004, that North Carolina has not met the constitutional requirements needed to provide a sound, basic education to all children.
Governor Roy Cooper established the “Commission on Access to Sound, Basic Education” in response to the Leandro ruling by Executive Order 10 in July 2017. The Commission is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of these issues:
- Staffing each classroom with a competent, well-trained teacher;
- Staffing each school with a competent, well-trained principal; and
- Identifying the resources necessary to ensure that all children, including those at-risk, have an equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education.
The Commission has nineteen members appointed by the Governor and has been instructed to work with WestEd and Judge David Lee to develop recommendations for what North Carolina must do to meet our constitutional obligations to all children for a sound, basic education.
Leandro in the News
Report: NC Still Short Offering All “Sound Basic Education” WUNC ,December 11, 2019
Last Updated November 12, 2021