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Our view: Once more: Do better for the students
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Our view

Our view: Once more: Do better for the students

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The Republicans who lead our state legislature have been at odds with public school officials in North Carolina for so long that it’s just part of the scenery now, something we take for granted like expecting the leaves to change in the fall. Spending-per-student is below the national average (sixth lowest in the nation), as is teacher pay (33rd lowest in the nation); and schools often languish with out-of-date resources and aging, overcrowded facilities.

And when legislators are not busy pushing one-time token salary bonuses or diverting millions in public resources to private school vouchers, they’re burdening school boards with ginned-up culture wars over mask mandates and critical race theory.

Don’t even get us started on the legislature’s portrayal of the state teachers’ association, whose advocacy for increased resources and higher salaries sets their teeth on edge.

That relationship is really what should change.

The opportunity presents itself once again as state legislative leaders submit their budget to Gov. Roy Cooper this week and negotiations over school funding begin.

As they do so, it’s extremely unlikely that they’ve complied with a court order from Superior Court Judge David Lee to fund the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan, which would pump an additional $5.6 billion into education funding through 2028 — the result of a decadeslong lawsuit filed by several counties that rightly claimed that the legislature was not meeting its constitutional duty to provide every North Carolina child with access to a sound basic education.

The state House and Senate budgets both, before being reconciled last week, offered fractions of that amount.

The judge’s plan includes funding improvements to help low-income students and those with disabilities, and to hire more school support personnel. Increased pay for teachers, principals and assistant principals is included, as well as efforts to improve teacher diversity and competency and child access to prekindergarten, the Journal reported.

Of course, Republican legislators bristled against this.

“A court has no more authority to direct the legislature to spend money or enact policy than the legislature does to direct a trial judge how to decide a case,” Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican and education committee leader, said in a statement earlier this year.

But the judge says otherwise. “If the state fails to implement the actions described in the Comprehensive Remedial Plan … ‘it will then be the duty of this Court to enter a judgment granting declaratory relief and such other relief as needed to correct the wrong,’” Lee wrote, citing in part an earlier Supreme Court ruling.

Lee has given the legislature an Oct. 18 deadline to implement the plan, adding that, “in the event the full funds necessary to implement the Comprehensive Remedial Plan are not secured by that date, the Court will hear and consider any proposals for how the court may use its remedial powers to secure such funding.” Judges in other states have forced their legislatures to comply with similar orders through fines or citing them for contempt of court.

We realize Republican legislators might prefer to pass another corporate tax cut — that seems to be their specialty.

But when the state is running a $6.5 billion surplus as well as sitting on almost $6 billion in federal stimulus and relief funds, they can afford to invest in schools. Beyond the legalities and expense, it’s just the right thing to do, and something the legislature should have committed itself to wholeheartedly many years ago rather than setting itself up as a public education adversary.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use our state’s resources to truly transform and strengthen our public schools. Our state has the resources to live up to our constitutional obligation to our children,” the governor said of the remedial plan.

We realize this isn’t a perfect world and the best often competes with the mediocre for shelf space. But there’s no reason our legislature shouldn’t be devoting considerably more resources to education — especially when they can and when the court has told them they’d better.

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