The opening day of a state education hearing exposed sharply different views on whether the state is meeting its constitutional mandate to provide opportunities for a sound education to every child.
Former State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison testified Tuesday that the state is failing to meet its obligations to students. Not all classrooms have competent teachers, he said, and there are many more strategies the state could use to help at-risk students.
Deputy state superintendent Rebecca Garland disagreed with Harrison, and testified that she was confident every child has the opportunity for a sound basic education. The state is making “every effort” to have a competent, effective teacher in every classroom, she said.
“There are classrooms that have an effective teacher where some students may fail, for a variety of reasons,” Garland said.
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The hearing in the long-running school quality case known as Leandro is over a plan for education improvements that Superior Court Judge Howard Manning has asked the State Board of Education to prepare. The Board’s plan is largely a description of efforts it put in place in 2010 using a $400 million federal grant. That grant runs out in about a month.
Lawyers for local school boards said the Board had not complied with Manning’s order to present “a plan of action” for improvements. Attorney Melanie Dubis repeatedly called the board’s submission a “so-called plan.”
The school boards asked Manning to order the state Board to work with the legislature and the executive branch to develop a comprehensive plan for complying with the state’s obligations under the constitution. The hundreds of thousands of elementary and middle school students who are failing to read and do math at grade level are evidence that the state is failing at its duties, they said.
The case dates back to 1994, when five low-wealth school districts sued the state saying they could not generate enough local tax revenue to provide an equal education for their students. The Supreme Court ruled that each child has a right to an opportunity for a sound basic education. Manning is responsible for monitoring state efforts to comply with the court rulings.
Harrison was state State Board chairman from 2009 to 2013 after being appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue. In 1994, he was superintendent in Hoke County, one of the original districts that brought the Leandro suit.
Parts of the plan the state board gave Manning on helping low-performing schools and districts need to be expanded, he said.
“I think the Department (of Public Instruction) and the state board along with the professionals out in the field have the ability to craft a plan if the General Assembly would ever consider funding it,” Harrison said.
Garland, who testified in support of the state board’s plan, said the state doesn’t need more “resources” for educational improvements.
“I think we have enough resources within the state for a student to be able to access a sound basic education,” Garland said.
“There are plenty of resources out in school systems that could be redirected in order to serve students in a different way,” she said. “So it’s hard for me to say it takes more resources when I’m not sure that all the resources that are there are being used as effectively as they could be used.”
Testimony continues Wednesday.