As North Carolina takes steps to improve educational equity, we should be intentional about a focus on early learning.
Twenty years after the NC Supreme Court first ruled in Leandro v. State that the state constitution guarantees every child “an opportunity to receive a sound, basic education,” and a few months after Judge Howard Manning stepped down from overseeing the lawsuit, the parties in the case have agreed to appoint an independent consultant by the end of October to make additional recommendations on how the state can continue to improve education for all children.
The announcement in late July coincided with the signing of a new Executive Order by NC Governor Roy Cooper to create the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education. The charge of the new Commission is to help NC meet its responsibilities under the 1996 and 2004 Leandro rulings.
The Commission will assess NC’s ability on two areas highlighted by the Leandro case: staffing schools with high quality teachers and principals and providing adequate resources to public schools.
Experts from the early childhood development field are among the 17 representatives to be appointed by the Governor. The Commission will work closely with the new independent consultant for the lawsuit. Members are expected to be appointed to the Commission in the coming weeks, with a first meeting anticipated this fall.
In 2011, Judge Manning issued another groundbreaking ruling in the Leandro case, stating that birth to five early childhood education and programs were integral to ensuring the state’s “constitutional compliance” to the Leandro rulings. As NC doubles down on its commitment to ensuring educational success for every child, the state has an opportunity to define “sound basic education” to include early learning, which is critical for school and life success. The Commission’s focus on teachers, principals, and adequate resources could support efforts to create a coordinated system of professional development for teachers and school leaders birth through third grade, ensure compensation parity between early care and education and K-3 educators, increase investments in NC Pre-K, decrease waiting lists for subsidies for high quality early care, and more.
The recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan draft includes language and recommendations around the importance of strengthening early learning. NC’s 2017 budget created a new B-3 Interagency Council to coordinate a system to meet the educational needs of young children. The new energy around Leandro is another opportunity to advance a first-class birth through third grade system of education for all of North Carolina’s children.