There has been a lot of talk over recent years about the declining status of North Carolina’s public school infrastructure, teacher pay, and national rankings. As we look ahead to what needs to be done to ensure the rights of our children are met, it’s helpful to look back and remind ourselves how we’ve reached this point.

There is no federal constitutional right to an education. However, the state of North Carolina gives its children a right to a free and equitable education through both the state constitution and state laws.

The North Carolina Constitution addresses a right to education in two places:  

  • Article I, Section 15 says: “The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.”  
  • Article IX: Education, has ten Sections. Of note is Section 2 which addresses the duty of the state and local government to provide a uniform system of free public schools “…wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

There are also state laws that make education a right in North Carolina. One of them is N.C.G.S. 115C-1, which says:

“A general and uniform system of free public schools shall be provided throughout the State, wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students, in accordance with the provisions of Article IX of the Constitution of North Carolina…”

These provisions were tested in court when families from low wealth rural school districts sued the state for not providing an adequate education as required by the state Constitution (Leandro vs State). In 1997, the NC Supreme Court found in favor of the plaintiffs, yet to this date the state has been unable to remedy the situation after two decades of trying to figure out how to provide an equitable and adequate education, regardless of zip code.

Some progress was finally made in 2018, when Superior Court Judge David Lee appointed an education based non-profit firm, West Ed, to conduct a study and produce a comprehensive report with strategies for implementation by March 31, 2019. It would focus on three elements:

  1. Qualified Teachers
  2. Experienced Leaders
  3. Adequate Resources

Wendy Lecker, an attorney at the Education Law Center writes:

“In recent years, North Carolina public schools have experienced reductions in education funding, which, in turn, have triggered cuts in essential resources, including teachers, support staff and programs, especially in schools serving high concentrations of low-income students and students at risk of academic failure…

The judicial proceedings in Leandro, now underway to develop specific remedial measures to ensure all North Carolina school children their constitutional right to an adequate education, hold the promise of alleviating the chronic resource deficits and severe underfunding of the state’s public schools. Judge Lee has established a clear process, with firm deadlines, for developing a concrete remedial plan for State action to guarantee that all schools have adequate resources to provide all children, no matter what their circumstances, the opportunity for a sound, basic education, as guaranteed by the North Carolina constitution.”

We are anxiously awaiting the recommendations of WestEd, but the NCGA must act now. They must stop the ongoing delaying tactics which are harmful to our children, educators and economy – it’s their duty under the law. Read here for our 2019 Asks for Education.