The case of Leandro v. State of North Carolina affirms every child’s state constitutional right to a sound, basic education beginning in early childhood.
How did we get here?
More than 25 years ago, five low-wealth North Carolina school districts – Hoke, Halifax, Cumberland, Robeson, and Vance – claimed that their tax revenues were not sufficient enough to provide an equal education to its students, leading them to sue the state of North Carolina and the state Board of Education. In 1997, the Supreme Court of North Carolina’s landmark decision in Leandro v. State of North Carolina affirmed every child’s state constitutional right to a sound, basic education beginning in early childhood. Twenty years later, Governor Roy Cooper joined with the Leandro plantiffs to work together on a plan for meeting the state’s constitutional obligation and established the Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education, which issued recommendations. In 2018, Judge W. David Lee took over the case and appointed WestEd as an independent education consultant to bring forward the most recent research and recommendations to meet the state’s constitutional obligation.
The Leandro case recognizes that a child’s education begins in early childhood, and that high-quality early childhood education is a critical foundation for later success in school. The Leandro case and the WestEd report reaffirm that a strong, supportive early childhood education system is essential to a child’s healthy development, early learning, and future academic success. It makes clear that there is an urgent need to expand funding for North Carolina’s early education system to ensure that all children, especially children from underserved and marginalized communities, have access to a sound, basic education beginning in early childhood.
It is time for the state to take action to address the education needs of all children. Barriers to our students’ success continue to mount during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their constitutional rights must not be contingent upon the economic conditions facing North Carolina.
Key Things to Know:
- For FY 2020-21, the state’s initial action plan proposed $35.6 million to combat the current early education inefficiencies, calling for the expansion of the NC Pre-K and Smart Start programs as well as increased funding for the early educator pipeline and the NC Infant Toddler program that provides early intervention services.
- Two other activities are also underway with grant funding: to develop a new early learning program for infants and toddlers modeled on the NC Pre-K program, and to create quality transition for young children from early childhood to K-3 classrooms.
- There are several provisions of the state’s initial response that would benefit infants and toddlers and align with Think Babies™ NC policy priorities.