Robb Leandro: Stop wasting time. Start repairing NC schools.


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At a prayer vigil on October 18, 2021 in Raleigh, Jovonia Lewis places a candle poster of the year 2013 alongside others marking Leandro's decades-long school funding lawsuit.  The case was originally filed in 1994 when school districts and families in five low-wealth counties sued the state for more funding.

At a prayer vigil on October 18, 2021 in Raleigh, Jovonia Lewis places a candle poster of the year 2013 alongside others marking Leandro’s decades-long school funding lawsuit. The case was originally filed in 1994 when low-income school districts and families in five counties sued the state for more funding.

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Over 25 years ago, my family and I joined a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina involving low-income schools. Our motivation was simple: We cared deeply for our community of Raeford in Hoke County and knew firsthand that my classmates and I were not getting the educational opportunities we deserved.

This case is known by our last name: the Leandro case.

The lawsuit rested on two key questions: Does the North Carolina Constitution guarantee all students the right to a solid basic education? And if so, have students from low-wealth countries had this opportunity?

My classmates and I did not need a court to answer the second question. We saw the lack of opportunities with our own eyes. Each year many of our best teachers moved to richer school districts with better resources and higher salaries. When we traveled to other parts of the state, we found that the old metal trailers did not mark school campuses the way they did for us.

We used ragged and outdated textbooks. On the video stream, we watched as NC students from a richer district were doing science labs because our school didn’t have the facilities or resources to allow us to complete the labs on our own.

My classmates and I didn’t think we were missing out on the same opportunities as everyone else; we knew so be it.

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Robb Leandro, who lent his name to Leandro’s school fundraising lawsuit in 1994 as a teenager in Hoke County, is now a lawyer with Parker Poe, the Raleigh law firm that represented the plaintiffs in Leandro’s original lawsuit. Juli Leonard [email protected]

In 1997, when the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that our state’s constitution guaranteed every child the right to a solid basic education, we felt justified. I assumed the matter would be resolved quickly. Certainly North Carolina would not maintain a two tier education system where your birthplace determined the quality of your education.

I was wrong. In fact, test data indicates that things have gotten worse since then, not better.

While the elected representatives of the two parties have never committed the necessary resources to remedy the disparities, they have too often used our file as political football. To be clear, our case has never been about politics. Neither party is totally blameless or at fault, and when in power neither party has solved the problem.

I hope the time has come for both sides to come together to keep the promise enshrined in our constitution.

Over the past few years, North Carolina has worked with local and national education experts to create a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of low-income schools and students. This is the first comprehensive plan developed by the state since we launched our challenge and the parties involved all believe it has a reasonable chance of improving low-income schools and student outcomes.

The fact that there is a plan and that a North Carolina Supreme Court judge ordered its implementation is a source of optimism.

Some argue that the plan is too expensive and that the state cannot afford to fix our schools. Although the cost can be high, the state is in a strong fiscal position and has sufficient reserves to fully fund the scheme.

More importantly, the investment we make today to improve the education of students in low-income counties will be rewarded in the future with increased tax revenues and reduced spending on social programs. What we cannot afford is to continue to fail our most economically disadvantaged students and let the status quo last for another 25 years.

Others have reacted to the plan, arguing that the court does not have the power to order the state to implement it. This argument does little to help students in failing schools.

Instead of wasting precious time pleading the authority of the tribunal, the CN General Assembly should completely eliminate the need for a court order by uniting to support the plan and committing the financial resources necessary for its success.

I am convinced that the implementation of the plan is the best opportunity we have had to resolve this crisis. I sincerely hope that we move forward together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as compatriots in North Carolina, charged with providing a quality education for every child who dwells there, whether in Raleigh or Raeford.

Robb Leandro is now a partner at Parker Poe, a Southeastern regional law firm that represented plaintiffs in Leandro’s initial lawsuit. He works in the Raleigh office and focuses his practice on healthcare law.

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