Center's Leandro III Brief Asks State to Remedy Constitutional Violations

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The UNC Center for Civil Rights filed its brief with the North Carolina Supreme Court in opposition to the State’s most recent appeal in the ongoing Leandro education litigation. The case, which began almost 20 years ago, affirmed the State’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education to North Carolina children. In 2005, the Center intervened in the ongoing case on behalf of parents and children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP, with the support of the North Carolina State Conference and the national NAACP.

In 2004, when this case came before the state supreme court for the second time (the court determined in 1997 that the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantee of a “sound basic education” was a legally enforceable obligation), the court ruled that the State had violated that obligation, and particularly with regard to at-risk children. In response to that ruling, the State implemented a series of remedial funding measures, which included developing and expanding what became a nationally-acclaimed Pre-K program. Longitudinal research on the program has shown demonstrated its success in helping the state provide a sound basic education. The program has resulted in improved tests scores, a narrowing of the achievement gap, and reduced special education placements. In subsequent court hearings over the next several years, the State repeatedly represented to the court, to education advocates, and to parents and students that the statewide Pre-K program was among the primary tools it selected for remedying its constitutional violations and liabilities.

Despite the success of the program, the 2011-2012 state budget severely cut funding and eliminated access to the program for approximately 25,000 children. The State also implemented a family co-pay requirement that imposed a substantial burden to low-income families and put related federal funding in jeopardy. Most importantly, the new legislation effectively dismantled the primary remedy the State implemented to address its constitutional violation and liability, and offered no alternative proposal to address its obligation to provide a sound basic education.

Education advocates quickly challenged the devastating budgetary changes, and the Wake County Superior Court issued an order blocking the implementation of the provisions that would eliminate access to the state’s pre-kindergarten program for 80% of the at-risk children currently being served. The State challenged that ruling, and in 2012 the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed (PDF) the lower court’s decision. The State then petitioned the supreme court for discretionary review, which was granted in November.

In its new brief, the Center argued that the detailed and well-developed body of school desegregation law provides the appropriate analytical framework for evaluating the State’s obligation to remedy its established constitutional violations. Those precedents provide the model for defining the judiciary’s proper role in monitoring and overseeing the implementation of remedies for constitutional violations regarding students and schools. Oral argument in the case will be scheduled this fall.

Read the Center’s brief (PDF). Read the amicus brief (PDF) filed by several North Carolina education justice advocacy organizations.

Posted by Jennifer Watson Marsh on Tue. September 3, 2013 12:31 PM
Categories: Amicus Curiae, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Education, Leandro, Race Discrimination
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