North Carolina Court Issues Historic Ruling to Ensure Underserved Children are No Longer Deprived of a Quality Education

RALEIGH – After waiting nearly two decades for a court ruling that would finally fix the state’s inadequate public education system for underserved students, Wake County Superior Court Judge David Lee delivered on his promise with an order requiring the State of North Carolina to fund a comprehensive plan that will improve teaching and learning. Represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as plaintiff-intervenors in the long-running Leandro v. State case, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and its student and family members celebrated the decision, which was handed down following a hearing on consideration of a proposed remedial order. In requiring the State to fund the court-approved plan, the Court held:

In the seventeen years since the Leandro II decision, a new generation of school children, especially those at-risk and socio-economically disadvantaged, were denied their constitutional right to a sound basic education.  Further and continued damage is happening now, especially to at-risk children from impoverished backgrounds, and that cannot continue…This Court can no longer ignore the State’s constitutional violation. To do so would render both the North Carolina State Constitution and the rulings of the Supreme Court meaningless.

For the past 17 years, the Superior Court has deferred to the State legislative and executive branches to enact a plan to fix the State’s failure to provide all students in the state with a constitutionally-required “sound basic education.” In June 2021, the court approved the State’s multi-year Comprehensive Remedial Plan (“CRP”), which describes the steps the State will take to deliver on that state constitutional mandate. Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget would have funded the first two years of the plan; however, the budget plans proposed by the state House and Senate did not come close. Despite a surplus in excess of $8 billion in its general fund, the General Assembly has failed to appropriate funds for the first two years of the CRP, which costs $1.8 billion.

“Since our Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Leandro, our students and their families have been waiting for a remedy,” said Rev. Corinne Mack, the NC NAACP’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch president. “They can wait no longer. I speak for our entire community when I say we breathed a sigh of relief and joy to hear the judge tell the legislature ‘your time is up.’”

“Every child deserves—and has a constitutional right to—a quality education; but today, and for at least the last 17 years, far too many children in North Carolina are being denied one,” said Elizabeth Haddix of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which represents the NC NAACP’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch in the case. “The General Assembly has for too long ignored its constitutional duty to ensure a sound basic education for every child. We are elated see the Court step in and exercise its authority to order the State actors to fund the Comprehensive Remedial Plan.”

In 1997, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the state constitution requires the State’s legislative and executive branches to ensure that all of North Carolina’s children have the opportunity to receive a “sound, basic education” that allows them to reach their full potential and choose college or a career. Following an extensive trial, the Court ruled that the State defendants had violated their duty to ensure that opportunity to all children, and ordered that they remedy that violation. In 2004, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that ruling. Over the past seventeen years, the trial court has held over twenty hearings, culminating in the development of the CRP. The CRP is an 8-year plan that will support and improve teaching, school leadership, pre-K, and services for at-risk students, students with disabilities and English learner students, among others, at schools across North Carolina.

View a copy of the Superior Court’s Order here.