North Carolina Court Order has Implications for Tennessee School Funding

A court order out of North Carolina could have implications for the ongoing school funding lawsuit in Tennessee. Here’s more:

On January 21, Wake County Judge David Lee signed a consent order in North Carolina’s long-running Leandro v. State school funding case adopting the comprehensive findings and recommendations in a study ordered by the court to bring the state’s public school system into constitutional compliance. The study, conducted by the national research organization WestEd and filed with Judge Lee in late 2019, identifies in detail the State’s current failure to provide students with a constitutional sound basic education and recommends major reforms to ensure adequate funding and essential resources for all students.

Shelby County and Nashville have filed suit against the State of Tennessee alleging inadequate funding. More recently, a group of lawmakers has proposed an additional $1.5 billion investment in Tennessee public schools.

Here are the recommendations made by the funding study in North Carolina:

Adequate and equitable funding: The State should increase school funding by $7 billion over the next eight years: $3.2 billion in the short term focused on at-risk students, followed by an additional $3.7 billion. An additional $1.18 billion is recommended to expand high quality preschool. Beyond increased funding, the State should overhaul the school finance system to ensure stability, predictability and progressivity, and target funds to programs for at-risk students, including preschool; support services, such as counselors and social workers; teacher pipeline reforms; and principal preparation. The finance reforms should also require periodic review and adjustment of the funding formula and direct State funding of charter schools.

Qualified, well-prepared and diverse teaching staff: The State should invest in improving the preparation of qualified teachers in high need schools by increasing support for North Carolina Teaching Fellows; State university teacher preparation programs, including at HBCUs; and district grow-your-own programs. Teacher compensation must be increased, especially for teachers in high-poverty districts, along with funding for ongoing professional development, teacher diversity and culturally responsive teaching.

Qualified and well-prepared principals: The State should update licensure and preparation requirements, expand access to high-quality principal preparation programs, and improve principal compensation and supports.

High Quality Preschool: In addition to a recommended $1.18 billion increase to expand high quality preschool, the State should prioritize access for at-risk children, improve the preschool teacher workforce, and work with high-poverty districts to ensure programs  serve community needs and use aligned instruction to transition children from preschool to the early grades.

Initiatives for At-Risk Students: Reforms are needed to attract and retain highly qualified teachers in high poverty districts; revise the accountability system to be less punitive; provide whole child supports, such as counselors, nurses and social workers; and address out-of-school barriers, such as hunger and homelessness.

Assessments and accountability: Assessment and accountability reforms are necessary to ensure coherence and alignment to curriculum and learning goals provide a broader picture of school/district performance and progress and use evidence-based support to improve performance.

Low-performing and high-poverty schools: A critical (and often-overlooked) recommendation is to rebuild the State Department of Public Instruction’s capacity to support districts and school improvement and to work with high poverty districts  to address out-of-school barriers to academic achievement through a community schools approach.

Continued Court Oversight: Judge Lee  should appoint a panel of experts to assist in monitoring State compliance in the implementation of the recommended remedies and  require  State submission of  reports and annual plans, with metrics to measure progress.

While the actual numbers may be different, many of these items could easily be applied to Tennessee. Our state fails to fund initiatives like RTI and continues to underfund counselors, nurses, and other key support staff. Additionally, the Department of Education reports the state is failing to provide funding for 9000 teachers hired by districts.

As Education Law Center notes:

The WestEd report and Judge Lee’s consent order represent a milestone in the long road to ensure the State effectuates the fundamental right of every child in North Carolina to have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education in a public school. The study and the order also provide a solid roadmap to guide advocates and lawyers working to achieve comprehensive school finance reforms in other states across the nation.  

Instead of waiting for a court order, Governor Lee and the General Assembly could begin moving this session to adequately fund Tennessee public schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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