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The Daily Tar Heel

N.C. Appeals School Ruling Aimed at Underprivileged

The March 26 ruling by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. gives state and local leaders one year to develop a "coordinated, effective education strategy" to ensure that all at-risk children have the opportunity for a sound basic education.

After a month of determining the next step to take in the case, Gov. Mike Easley, Attorney General Roy Cooper, legislative leaders, State Board of Education officials and N.C. Superintendent Mike Ward announced Monday that they had decided to appeal the ruling.

Ward said the action was taken because of concern that a good education should be expanded to include not only at-risk and poor students, but students in all districts.

"It matters to the state that we do a good job to assist youngsters at risk in the system," Ward said.

"But we need a bigger and more compelling vision than the judge's Robin Hood message."

Easley and Cooper released statements reflecting similar sentiments.

Easley's press release stated that the governor is still committed to advancing initiatives to benefit all regardless of the case's outcome.

"Our children deserve educational opportunities that go far beyond the minimal constitutional standards that are the focus of the case," Easley said.

Manning's ruling came nearly seven years after 10 families from five poor school districts first sued the state in May 1994, citing that children in poor counties receive an education unequal to that of children in richer counties.

The case has expanded in the past seven years to include more affluent counties such as Durham and Wake.

It is now known as the "Leandro" case, named after one of the students in the initial lawsuit.

After the N.C. Supreme Court established every child's constitutional right to a "sound basic education" in July 1997, the burden has fallen on subsequent courts, including Manning's, to decide whether the state is indeed providing the service.

Bob Spearman, a lawyer who has been representing the 10 families from the beginning, said the state's decision to appeal is an attempt to sidestep the issue.

"(Manning) said that (the state has) to come up with a plan to provide the best education to students," Spearman said. "The state could do that in many different ways. It's just a way to drag the case out more so that they don't have more reasons to help these poor students."

John Poteat, research director of N.C. Public School Forum, a Raleigh-based group that studies N.C. education, said the state is appealing to gain further clarification of what Manning means by "coordinated, effective educational strategy."

"I think they were concerned what the impact of the ruling could have been and they wanted to appeal before looking at the issue for a whole year and have it come out to nothing," Poteat said.

"But I also appreciate (Spearman's) position with (the main issue) not being addressed."

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