Cooper creates education commission

Gov. Roy Cooper created a new commission to identify the resources needed to improve North Carolina public schools and to end a 23-year-old legal case.

Cooper on Tuesday signed an executive order creating the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education. The commission will look for ways to resolve two lawsuits, Leandro v. State of North Carolina and Hoke County Board of Education v. North Carolina.

“This board is designed to provide a path forward, taking all we know about this case, taking in where we need to go, and using it as a tool that the court could use in a settlement document to push the General Assembly and the school systems to a sound basic education,” Cooper said following a bill signing ceremony held at Lakeforest Elementary School on Tuesday.

In May 1994, five low-income rural school districts and the Leandro family sued the state of North Carolina, saying the state should provide more funding to meet the needs of English-learners, special education students and gifted students. The suit said children in low-wealth counties were receiving an unequal education because those counties didn’t have the access to local dollars that wealthier counties have.

In July 1997, the state Supreme Court ruled every child is guaranteed the right to a “sound basic” education and sent it back to a lower court where the now retired Superior Court Judge Howard Manning issued a series of rulings that outlined what a “sound basic” education entailed.

Seven years later, in Hoke County Board of Education v. State of North Carolina, the Supreme Court said the right to a sound basic education extends to preschoolers.

“We know this Leandro case, that has been going on two decades, means that we need to ensure children a sound basic education. It’s part of our Constitution; it’s who we are as North Carolinians. I think education is in the DNA of our state,” Cooper said. “I think the plaintiffs in this case and the defendants, the state, are looking for a way to settle this case and stop the litigation and move forward to helping people with education and to help our system.”

The commission will assess the state’s ability to staff schools with competent, well-trained teachers and principals and its commitment to providing adequate resources to public schools, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The commission will consist of 17 representatives appointed by the governor from the fields of education, business, local government, law, health care, early childhood development, psychology and counseling, and public safety.

An independent consultant, appointed by the parties to Leandro, will help with the review and assessment, the release said. The release said the commission will meet at least quarterly to review the consultant’s work and collaborate with policy experts from the governor’s office.

Legislative buy will be important to the process, Cooper said, and that means having representatives who vote for budgets that invest in schools, teacher pay and school supplies. The General Assembly has to be part of the process, Cooper said.

“We have an election in 2018. I am going to be out there working for legislators who I believe will advance the cause of public education,” he said. “We are going to see if we can’t improve the way this legislature views public education. We are going to need strong schools, community colleges and universities to be able to compete in this global economy.”

Advanced manufacturing requires skills and abilities with technology, Cooper said.

“That is our challenge in rural North Carolina and a particular challenge in rural eastern North Carolina,” he said. “You have to have skills and technology abilities and you need advanced degrees and certifications. A high school diploma just won’t do it anymore if you want to get these better paying jobs. That’s what I want: more money in people’s pockets.”

Contact Ginger Livingston with or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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