As the right-wing moral panic over critical race theory continues to grab the headlines, there is a real crisis in North Carolina public schools that continues to be underestimated: a General assembly that chooses to ignore the state constitution to keep our schools underfunded. The crisis continues to hurt North Carolina’s children by denying them the education they deserve while asking deeper questions about the health of our democracy.
The question could not be clearer. In June, the courts order to the State to implement the Leandro Complete remedial plan immediately and in full. Half-measures and temporary funding will not get the education students have been waiting for since Leandro a court case was filed in 1994. Thanks to the Leandro Comprehensive catch-up plan, a comprehensive package of spending and policy reforms needed to provide our students with the education they deserve by the 27-28 school year, legislative leaders know how to create a public school system that provides every student has access to a “basic education.” The Governor’s budget has shown leaders that the Plan can easily be funded. The only remaining hurdle is for legislative leaders to fulfill their constitutional oaths and implement the plan.
Yet on Thursday, House budget writers showed that they – like their Senate counterparts – have no interest in fulfilling their constitutional obligations to North Carolina students. the Education and Health and social services budgets fail to implement the Leandro Plan (early education programs come under the HHS budget). While the House’s compensation plan for teachers and principals remains under wraps, other sections of the budget are well below what the courts have ordered. Looking at the non-salary elements of the plan, the House budget proposal only funds 24 percent of the plan in fiscal years 21-22, falling to just 16 percent in fiscal years 22-23.
It is not known why legislative leaders continue to deny students the education they deserve. It is also not clear why they would trigger a constitutional crisis just to deprive students of the resources necessary to succeed. But this is the path that legislative leaders have taken. And that – not just any legal theory – is the real crisis facing North Carolina schools.