The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, March 2, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: The Leandro case is crucial for equity for minority students

DTH Photo Illustration. New updates to the Leandro plan and why it is important to Chapel Hill schools.

The North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that would be transformative for minority students across the state.

The court will hear the "Leandro" case — named after one of the plaintiffs in the original case — in the coming months, rather than waiting for a ruling from the Court of Appeals. The case is integral for advancing equity in early education.

Dating back to 1994, this lawsuit was filed against the state and claimed that N.C. school districts lacked the funds to provide an equal education for all children. At the time, state residents were taxed at a higher rate than the national average.

North Carolina ranks in the bottom 50 percent of states when it comes to quality of education. 

The counties that were among the lowest funded in the state — including Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance and Cumberland — are still near the bottom of the N.C. Public School forum's rankings. Every single school in Halifax County is a Title I school — meaning they have high concentrations of student poverty.

And — in underfunded counties — minority students suffer. 

Oftentimes, there aren't enough Spanish-speaking teachers to provide for the academic needs of Spanish-speaking students. Those in poorer and rural counties are also more likely to lack long-term arts, music or physical education programs, according to reporting from WRAL

The pool of literary materials essentially runs dry.

For this reason alone, the advancement of the Leandro case is a moral imperative. If we want to improve our public education system, increasing funding to schools in areas where there are financial discrepancies should be a crucial focus for state officials. But this has yet to be proven a priority for the state.

The plaintiffs in the case asked the courts to order how taxpayer money be allocated. Under the court's rule, schools would become better funded and the quality of K-12 education would significantly improve.

The North Carolina Supreme Court will now hear arguments to evaluate the two-year state budget that the General Assembly adopted last November. 

Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered state officials to transfer $1.75 billion from public funds to two educational agencies and the health department for a remedial education expenditure plan that would last until mid-2023.

In light of this, N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby instead assigned special Superior Court Judge Mike Robinson to evaluate school spending in a new state budget law on March 21 — the same day it was revealed the state Supreme Court had agreed to fast-track appeals of the case.

"I've never had any formal notification or explanation," Lee said in an interview with The Associated Press last month.  

When asked why he thinks the change happened, he replied, "My guess is as good as yours." 

Lee is a Democrat, while Robinson and Newby are both Republicans.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, wrote in a tweet that the change is "akin to a losing basketball team changing out a referee in its favor."

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, echoed Chaudhuri's sentiments in a later tweet.

"A fair, impartial independent judiciary is at risk in NC," she wrote. "To remove Judge Lee from the Leandro case after NC Supreme Ct announced a hearing and then to fire the veteran head of judicial standards is indeed troubling."

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

The plan would be a much-welcomed relief for the state's education system, especially in the aforementioned counties. The five counties mentioned have some of the highest percentage of minority groups across the state. For example, about 60 percent of Cumberland County residents identify as non-white, according to census data.

Blocking any form of legislation compromises the education system of the state — and more specifically — the education of minority students. 

That is not a look the state should be working toward.