The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
Twenty years ago, the state Supreme Court gave Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. a daunting challenge. He’s still wrestling with it. Manning oversees the high court’s decision in the Leandro case, a landmark ruling that found the state violating its own constitution by failing to provide adequate resources to poor school districts.
Leandro was Kathleen M. Leandro, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by five boards of education that sued the state over inadequate school funding. The counties included Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson.
Kathleen Leandro’s son, Robb, was a high school sophomore in Hoke County when the suit was filed. Today, he’s a partner in a large Raleigh law firm, specializing in health care issues. A lot has changed in his life. But little has changed in Judge Manning’s oversight of education. He still is looking at a dysfunctional mess.
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As he has so often over the past two decades, Manning hauled state education officials into court last week to explain alarmingly high rates of students failing to meet basic expectations.
The educators told Manning that testing standards have been raised, so more children are getting lower scores. The judge said he understands that but is concerned that in hundreds of schools in mostly poor areas, only small fractions of students are performing at grade level.
He added that he knows low-income children aren’t coming into the school systems with the same preparation that wealthier families are able to give their children, but said that represents the state’s failure to do its job. “They’re there, and they’re our responsibility,” he said. “Every day, they’re in that classroom. Something’s wrong in that classroom. Something’s wrong in that school.”
And for once, it wasn’t necessarily about money. Manning acknowledged that the state has invested hundreds of millions in its 44 worst-performing schools, but that hasn’t brought improvement. “That’s a lot of money, folks,” he said. “and if you were GE or Google or Microsoft, you wouldn’t be supporting any of them. You’d have closed the plant down or fired everybody in the school and got somebody who could get the job done.”
The judge said he’ll hold another hearing soon to see what the state will do about meeting its constitutional obligation to those schools.
And then he’ll hold another, and another. And when he retires, a new judge will take up the quest. Some things are just that resistant to change.
Tribune Content Agency