Article by Tyler Bonin
- In spite of near countless educational committees in existence, Gov. Cooper has created another new commission tasked with developing recommendations for Leandro compliance
- Missing from the commission is a voice representing school choice
- Blocking choice from the discussion appears highly political, and leaves out a vital and popular movement
In 1994, the Leandro family joined school districts and other families from five low-income counties in North Carolina (Vance, Cumberland, Robeson, Halifax, and Hoke) to file suit against the state. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that even with higher than average tax rates, these counties received lower than average tax revenues, thus putting their schools at a disadvantage compared to wealthier school districts.
In order to address this disparity, the plaintiffs suggested that the state needed to balance funding across school districts. The court ruled that while school districts do not have a constitutional right to equal funding, North Carolina children have a state constitutional right to the “opportunity to receive a sound, basic education” — a right the court deemed to be the state’s obligation to uphold.
The Leandro case, however, has never left court. Continuous hearings are held so that the court may review state efforts to comply with the ruling. Recently, Governor Roy Cooper assembled the Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound, Basic Education, comprised of individuals working within education, government, non-profits, and the private sector. The intent of the commission, created by executive order, is to advise the independent education consultancy selected by the court to provide recommendations on how best to comply with the Leandro ruling. Once the recommendations are made, the court may direct action from the state.
In outlining his reasoning for adding a commission to the myriad other state education committees already in existence, Cooper noted, “What gives this commission extra authority, is that there is litigation going on in the courts… And all the attorneys in this litigation over whether the state is complying with Leandro have agreed that this commission and consultants can help us find a way forward.”
Cooper’s commission, unsurprisingly, is missing a school choice representative. The fact that a school choice representative does not have a seat at this table is short-sighted and implicitly demonstrates the commission’s partisan agenda.
If the Leandro commission truly wants to discuss the ways in which North Carolina students from traditionally underserved communities may best secure a “sound basic education,” then school choice must be part of the dialogue. The rise of charter schools and voucher programs across the U.S.—and their increasing popularity among families—is linked to their ability to provide an excellent education for disadvantaged students whom have been subjected to failing school districts for years. One such example is Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools in Harlem, a New York City neighborhood that has been plagued with high unemployment and poverty rates, and perpetually failing public schools. Moskowitz’s charter school network in Harlem now outperforms 89 percent of New York City schools on math. This is just one example of the progress that school choice has made among the country’s most disadvantaged students.
In North Carolina, there has been an increasing desire among parents to “vote with their feet.” Specifically, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, North Carolina’s private school voucher plan for low-income families, has seen record numbers of applications from parents across the state. Parents are taking action to secure a better educational outcome for their children, by removing them from the very situations cited in the Leandro case.
In spite of the growing demand for school choice, Cooper appointed Duke professor Helen Ladd—an outspoken critic of charter schools and voucher programs—to the commission’s education researcher position. It is clear that Cooper intends to exclude discussion of programs and schools popular among North Carolina families; programs and schools which show promise for allowing low-income families access to the education that is the right fit for their child.
It’s no secret that Cooper is an opponent of school choice; having a school choice representative on his commission could have at least given the impression that its intent is to have a bona fide discussion on ways to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students. But by rigging a highly partisan commission to “inform” an educational consultant on the best way to achieve a sound basic education (while ignoring the popularity of school choice programs among North Carolina families), Cooper is attempting to not only embrace the status quo, but is also seeking to expand his power into an area constitutionally reserved for the General Assembly and the State Board of Education.
It appears then that any recommendations surfacing from this commission will most likely serve to expand the very educational bureaucracy that is harming North Carolina schools.
Tyler Bonin is a contributor to the Civitas Institute