NC Gov Cooper panel produces school funding improvements

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A panel created to help North Carolina comply with legal rulings on public school funding backed actions Thursday that align with recent recommendations from an outside consultant.

The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education, in approving its final report, called on increased state funding for education, but didn’t give a specific amount, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

The report came two days after Superior Court Judge David Lee formally endorsed findings from California-based WestEd, which focused on eight areas of improvement. Lee is tasked with overseeing school funding litigation known as “Leandro,” which began more than two decades ago.

In separate rulings in 1997 and 2004, North Carolina’s Supreme Court declared that the state constitution demanded every child have the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education,” but that efforts to provide that education to poor children were inadequate. Lee had agreed to bring in WestEd to help evaluate the continued shortcomings.

Plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit and commission members are now hopeful there’s momentum to get legislators to approve the funding and other changes needed for compliance with the rulings. Earlier this week, Lee directed the parties in the lawsuit to come with up ideas to meet the state’s educational needs within 60 days.

“We now know what the constitution demands,” said Rick Glazier, a commission member and executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center. “We have a remedy and a plan to get there, and now it’s up for everybody to fulfill the oath they took.”

WestEd’s report, released last month, offered scenarios that would require $8 billion in additional education dollars over eight years. The commission’s recommendations included improving teacher pay, expanding prekindergarten and scholarships for student teachers and changing the state’s A-F grading system for schools.

Any major changes would have to receive legislative support. Some Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have raised concerns about the funding proposed in the WestEd report. Commission Chairman Brad Wilson, the former CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, said the panel will want to hit a “sweet spot” in its request for what is possible to approve this year.

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