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NC Attorneys Say Thousands Of Students Not Receiving Basic Education

Students in a Guilford County school classroom on computers.
Guilford County Schools

 Attorneys for some low-income school districts say the state is failing on its commitment to provide all students with a sound, basic education.

The lawyers are asking for a hearing in August and a written plan from the state as to how it intends to meet the basic education mandate outlined in the decades-old landmark lawsuit, known as the Leandro case.

In a motion filed last month, lawyers say that almost 800,000 children – 56 percent of all public school children – are at risk of academic failure as evidenced by low test scores. They go on to say that many of the strategies to help low-income students have been weakened or cut over the years. The motion cites examples like stagnant teacher pay, the elimination of Teaching Fellows scholarships and cuts to staff development.

“The state has depleted the educational resources available to teachers and principals...  and the result  is reflected in the end-of-grade test scores,” says Melanie Debus, an attorney for the low-income districts.

The court filing says 483,000 students are not proficient in reading and math and, therefore, are not receiving a sound, basic education.

Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger says four of the five school districts in the Leandro case receive more than the statewide per student average in funding.

“If more money was the only factor in these children’s education, their academic performance would be above the state average and not below it,” she said in an email.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr., who’s overseeing the case, issued a report this week entitled, “The Reading Problem.” He points to the state’s low test scores on exams such as the EOG, ACT and EOC as evidence that “too many thousands of school children from kindergarten through high school have not obtained the sound basic education mandate.”

Manning outlines test results before and after the state implemented new Common Core English and Math standards. Only 32 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in reading and math in 2012-13, compared to 58.9 percent in the prior year

Manning says the court will await the 2013-14 EOG, EOC and ACT test results before making any assessment.  

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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