Leandro Action Plan Approved by Judge Calls on NC Legislature to Appropriate Funds, Including for Early Childhood

An Action Plan for 2021 on the Leandro case has been approved by Judge David Lee as a first step in what will eventually be an eight-year implementation of the state’s mandate to provide a sound, basic education to every child. The plan would invest $427 million in birth through higher education. The NC General Assembly will now decide whether to allocate the funds.

The ruling comes eight months after Judge Lee wrote a consent order in January asking the parties to the case to come up with short, medium and long term plans for beginning to implement the recommendations in the 2019 WestEd report. The Action Plan was originally due in March but was postponed due to the pandemic. WestEd is working with the State Board of Education to create an oversight plan. They will report quarterly to the court on progress.

The Action Plan includes implementation steps in most of the seven areas outlined in the January consent order, including $35.7 million for early childhood:

Many of the recommendations align with the Pathways Action Framework, both in the early childhood section and in other sections of the recommendation. The Pathways Action Framework was one of the documents WestEd considered as they wrote the 2019 report.


Equity Approach

The Action Plan uses an equity lens.

  • Some action steps prioritize high poverty and low wealth schools and districts.
  • Other steps focus on increasing racial and ethnic diversity, such as among teachers.
  • For the early intervention increase, “at-risk” is defined by the court as including students with one of the following characteristics: from a low-income family; participate in free or reduced-cost lunch programs; have parents with low-level education; show limited proficiency in English; are a member of racial or ethnic minority group; or live in a home headed by a single parent or guardian. 


Early Childhood Action Steps

The plan’s goal for early childhood is “a system of early education that provides access to high-quality pre-kindergarten and other early childhood learning opportunities to ensure that all students at-risk of educational failure, regardless of where they live in the State, enter kindergarten on track for school success.”

If funded by the NC Legislature, these initial action steps would be implemented in fiscal year 2020-21 through an additional State investment of $35.7 million.

2030 Goal2020-21 Action Steps2020-21 Investment
Expand the NC Pre-K program to provide high-quality, full-year services to all at-risk 4-year-old children.Increase State funding per NC Pre-K slot with the goal of paying 100 percent of the actual cost by 2028. Funding in 2020 will increase the average state rate per slot by $200 and the county administrator rate will increase to 10 percent for oversight, monitoring, enrollment, and support.$10.5 million
Increase high-quality early learning opportunities for at-risk children from birth through age three.

Implement a feasibility and cost study for a high-quality early learning program for birth through age 3 modeled on NC Pre-K to be completed by June 2022. 

Implement a study to develop alternative approaches to NC’s current market rate model used to determine child care subsidy reimbursement rates to support high-quality early learning to be completed by June 2022.

Grant funded for FY 2021 through NC’s federal Preschool Development Grant
Expand the NC Infant-Toddler Program to provide high-quality early intervention services for children with special needs and increase access to services.Over the 2020-21 fiscal year, add up to 45 additional staff at the state and local level, interpreter services, a centralized provider network system, salary adjustments to address recruitment and retention, and professional development to strengthen infrastructure and services provided through the NC Infant-Toddler Program/Early Intervention services.$7 million (recurring); $650,000 (non-recurring)
Incrementally scale up the Smart Start program to increase quality, access, and support for at-risk children and families.Increase funding for Smart Start with the goal of providing funding to meet 25 percent of the defined need for children aged birth to five by 2028.$10 million
Increase the volume and quality of the early childhood educator pipeline.Expand funding to provide educational attainment-based salary supplements to teachers in early learning programs serving children from birth to age five, prioritizing teachers in programs in high poverty school districts. This effort will increase retention and education among early childhood educators through the Child Care WAGE$ and the Infant Toddler Educator AWARD$ programs and provide professional development and other workforce supports.$7 million
Ensure quality transitions and alignment from early childhood programs to K-3 classrooms and strengthen elementary schools’ readiness to support all children to achieve early grade success.

Implement a pilot program for prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers to learn, plan, and work together with professional development focused on formative assessment, family engagement, and developmentally appropriate practices for young children:

  • Allow families and prekindergarten teachers to systematically share information about children’s strengths and needs with kindergarten teachers through an electronic information-sharing platform for the first time.
  • Align the Kindergarten Entry Assessment (Early Learning Inventory) with birth through third grade. The specific indicators of learning and development within these domains align with a subset of the indicators in the NC early learning standards and the NC Standard Course of Study.

The pilot will prioritize the inclusion of teachers from rural and low-wealth districts and from high-poverty schools across the State. The pilot will be conducted over two school years, 2021-22 and 2022-23.

Grant funded for FY 2021 through NC’s federal Preschool Development Grant


Other Action Steps

Many other areas of action steps also support early learning and align with the Pathways Action Framework. A few examples:

Goal Area2030 Goal2020-21 Action Steps2020-21 Investment
Qualified and Well-Prepared Teacher in Every ClassroomSignificantly increase the racial and ethnic diversity of North Carolina’s qualified and well-prepared teacher workforce and ensure all teachers employ culturally responsive practices.

Develop a plan of actions by January 2021 that the State will take to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of qualified and well-prepared teachers through the work of Governor Cooper’s DRIVE Task Force.

The State Board of Education will monitor, review, coordinate, and implement programs and efforts to increase teacher diversity.

Achievable within existing funding
Increase educator compensation and create compensation incentives to enable low-wealth districts to attract and retain qualified and well-prepared teachers.

Raise salaries for teachers and instructional support staff by an average of 5%. 

Conduct a North Carolina-specific wage comparability study to determine competitive pay for educators in comparison to professions that require similar education and credentials, and to identify the level of compensation and other specific State, regional, and local salary actions required to attract, recruit, and retain high-quality educators, particularly to low-wealth districts and high-poverty schools. 

Educator salary increases – $235 million

Wage comparability study – $200,000 (non-recurring)

A Qualified and Well-Prepared Principal in Every SchoolExpand professional learning opportunities for current principals and assistant principals.By December 2020, develop a plan, to be implemented in the next Phase of the overall Leandro Plan, for the creation of a School Leadership Academy that provides mentoring, coaching, professional development, and ongoing support.Achievable within existing funding
A Finance System that Provides Adequate, Equitable, and Efficient ResourcesIncrease flexible funding for Student Instructional Support Personnel (SISP) to meet the academic, physical, and mental health needs of students and to ensure that schools are safe and supportive learning environments.Incrementally increase funding for whole-child supports through positional funding that increases the number of SISP (school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists) to begin to meet national guidelines, initially prioritizing high-poverty schools. $40 million