Leandro v State of NC

It has been 25 years since five low-wealth counties in North Carolina sued the state because they didn’t have enough resources to provide an equal education to all students.  But, finally, there is the possibility that we’ll have a result.  Our governor has brought together all the parties to create a plan to deal with the state’s constitutional obligations.  This fall, the plan will be announced and likely entered as a consent judgement in the case.  What are the elements of that judgement (as shared by commission members on September 11th, 2019) and how will I work as state superintendent to ensure that we live up to our duty?

Finance and Resources

  • Determine an adequate level of funding in order to provide a sound, basic education
    • This is a simple ask, but obviously requires a deeply political answer.  Do we include the need for support personnel who are not “educating” but are critical for student success (like nurses) in this figure?  Do we listen to national experts on what the right ratios are to properly educate?  Do we include enough funding for strong professional salaries and a living wage for all employees?  Obviously everything else is easier if we honestly answer this question.  It will take a state superintendent who has been deeply involved in school budgets for years, as I have, to ensure that we advocate for the right answer here.
  • Determine the appropriate balance between state and local funding to ensure that schools and districts have sufficient resources
    • I believe the state should commit once again to providing all the operational expenses for schools (perhaps some local cost of living adjustments need to be at the local level), and allow counties to focus on capital needs. Growing counties have the ability to fund construction, especially if we authorize school impact fees as part of this conversation.
  • Adjust allotments to provide more funding to support high-needs students and to provide appropriate flexibility to effectively meet the needs of those students
    • We have some of these allotments today in our position-based system, and I am not yet convinced that we need to move to dollar allotments just to improve our allocations.  The key on this item is that it needs to be done without “caps” on the maximum number of high-needs students, like we have for state funding of students with disabilities today.  We can change allotment formulas to meet needs without changing to dollar-based.
  • Provide sufficient funding for specialized instructional support personnel
    • Yes, and this should include teacher assistant allocations that allow K-3 teachers to provide appropriate small-group literacy instruction.
  • Develop a process for recurring, statewide support for capital, infrastructure, and technology needs
    • Technology and infrastructure are ongoing needs, so while accountants show these as a capital expense, they should be borne by the state, not counties. 
  • Implement statewide salary schedules to ensure that educators are adequately compensated and provided with the necessary incentives to grow and remain in the profession
    • There is no evidence that bonus schemes induce teachers to perform better. A salary schedule that values the experience our veteran teachers provide and is adequate for all is absolutely required.  I am surprised there’s no mention of other compensation such as benefits: Teachers have accepted less in upfront pay for decades knowing a strong pension and retiree health coverage is available in their future. We must maintain our commitment to strong benefits as part of overall compensation.



  • Expand the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program
    • This is easy to support. We had a strong, diverse program before, and we need to return to that design and full funding.
  • Create and fund a statewide entity to coordinate and enhance teacher recruitment, placement and retention efforts
    • This is an interesting suggestion with great possibilities under a new state superintendent, similar to what South Carolina is doing.  Our constitution requires a single system of public education–we should not waste effort competing for talent between districts in the state.
  • Experiment with ways to encourage non-education majors to obtain teacher certification
    • Too many lateral-entry teachers today are not prepared for the challenges of full-time teaching.  This needs to be done carefully because while teacher shortages are a challenge, a teacher who cannot deliver instruction well can be very harmful to students.


  • Adopt a long-term, statewide strategic plan for preparing highly qualified teachers that should prioritize direct investments in teacher education programs at institutions of higher education and in their LEA partners (school districts)
    • I have experience on my school board with some great partnerships today (NCCU, Elon) and can see how this would deliver great results for all LEAs.
  • Develop a pilot program that creates a high-quality residency program in low-wealth districts or high-poverty schools for beginning certified teachers
    • While I strongly support high-quality residency programs, and recognize that these schools have our highest needs for teachers, I would rather we work on solutions that put our best teachers where they are needed most (as Cumberland County Schools is doing) before we put inexperienced teachers there just to have bodies.  It isn’t what is best for our highest-need learners, nor does it encourage teachers to stay in the profession.  We should be creative about how we encourage our best teachers to serve in our highest-need schools.


  • Provide annual recruitment bonuses for certified teachers who commit to teach in a low-wealth school district or high-poverty school: $10,000 over four years
    • I would rather pay teachers in these schools on an 11-month contract, which is twice as much extra money and also gives them time to create top-notch lesson plans and get more professional development before school starts.
  • Develop a state loan repayment plan that repays 20% of a certified teacher’s student loans for each year they teach in a low-wealth district or high-poverty school
    • This is a great idea. It may not be as effective as Teaching Fellows, but it’s not as expensive, and it reaches more teachers.
  • Provide funding to pilot up to four long-term “grow your own” teacher partnerships
    • Why limit to four?  There are already great teacher cadet programs that allow early work for students to understand teacher culture in the district (and get PD during their summers while in school). There are also great TA-to-teacher programs (including in my district) that are able to get new teachers in the classroom even faster.  We should provide funding for pay for dozens of these programs to return highly committed teachers to where the needs are.


  • Expand the North Carolina New Teacher Support Program
    • Again, if we want “one system” of public schools, having a central function like this that is delivering excellent support is terrific.


  • Commission an NC-specific study to determine comparable pay for teachers to other professions that require similar education. In the meantime, pay teachers equivalent to other college graduates in NC
    • This will solve many issues with teacher recruitment and retention, as being competitive with other professionals will also make us competitive in recruiting from other parts of the country.
  • Provide increased compensation for advanced credentials that are correlated with more effective teaching
    • We should expect teachers to model lifelong learning.  This provides an incentive for learning what’s more effective, and should include National Boards, AIG and EC certifications that we know help students. 
  • Provide incentive pay for teachers with shortage area certifications and who teach in low-wealth school districts or high-poverty schools
    • Again, I would structure this pay for high-need schools through 11 month contracts so that we give teachers time to be prepared for the year, but I support the concept.

Support, Retention, and Career Pathways

  • Respect teachers as professionals by engaging them in shared decision-making. Develop administrators’ capacity to create positive teaching environments
    • I have a track record of supporting this from the school board.  We may want to be creative in how we implement this, as teachers already have too much to do in 40 hours a week (not that teachers spend only 40 hours).
  • Provide adequate funding for relevant, integrated professional development
    • This misses any focus on quality; we’ve seen far too much low-quality PD that has not delivered results for students.
  • Expand grant funding for school districts to develop, implement, and scale teacher career pathways plans
    • This grant funding should be for design/implementation costs–pathway plans should be structured to be cost-neutral over time or teachers cannot depend on them to deliver value over the long term.

Sliding Scale

  • State support for NTSP, placement bonuses, and incentive pay to be provided on a sliding scale
    • LEAs will appreciate support explaining this to their county commissioners.  If the state is picking up all the costs for some counties and expecting other counties to pick up new costs, it will take a group effort to get increased funding from counties.



  • Require full-time, yearlong internships for students seeking a school administrator license and provide stipends for these students
    • When there are AP openings, this ends up being the practice anyway today. It’s good to have as the baseline, but we also need to recognize the shortages that exist today in being able to fill all slots.
  • Expand the Principal Fellows Program to provide more fellowships to more students
    • High-quality school leaders are absolutely critical to our success.  Anything we can do to improve leadership like this is something I will support.
  • Scale preparation programs like the Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA) and Transforming Principal Preparation Program (TP3) so every district has at least one partnership with a high-quality preparation program.
    • Agreed.
  • Create a formal statewide mentorship program for beginning school administrators
    • In addition to the time crunch, getting administrator mentors/mentees together physically can be a challenge.  Formalizing and providing support for technology solutions will be helpful here.

Development and Retention

  • Create a formal statewide mentorship program for beginning school administrators
  • Expand professional development opportunities for district and school administrators
    • As a board member, I have seen how this is even harder to do well than teacher PD.  But it is critical to our success, so I support the effort to improve here.
  • Revise the principal salary schedule to increase emphasis on experience and to enable principals to remain at the school level that matches their leadership strength
    • Agreed.  We are doing this some with local funds in districts that can, but the bonus program is not working to drive principal behavior, and rewarding experience is a much better structure.
  • Revise the allotment formula for assistant principals to increase the number of APs and provide flexibility in the use of the funds
    • I am all for flexibility to meet local needs, especially for schools that are delivering good things for students.

Early Childhood/”Whole Child”

  • Build the early childhood educator pipeline for birth through 3rd grade
    • Yes!
  • Scale up Smart Start to provide early childhood system infrastructure and a continuum of services for children and families from birth to age five
    • Yes!  We know that early, high-quality investments have great returns for the student, as well as reducing required expense later.
  • Expand access to early intervention
    • Yes!
  • Scale up the NC Pre-K Program to serve all eligible at-risk four-year-olds
    • Yes! I have been a supporter of Pre-K since seeing my mother teach it for a dozen years when my brother and I were in school.
  • Ensure that elementary schools are ready to meet the needs of all children in the early grades
    • Yes! 
  • Improve cross-sector early childhood data quality, collection and analysis
    • This will be helpful, but must be done without burdening kids or early-grade teachers

Assessment and Accountability

  • Include multiple measures of school performance in the state’s accountability system
    • As NC developed its ESSA plan, I advocated for our non-academic measure to be an indicator of mental wellness.  Mental health challenges affect all types of learners, and we will get better focus from schools and funders if we measure this.
  • Create a plan for a more balanced assessment system that can provide standards-aligned assessments to inform classroom learning as well as summative assessments for accountability
    • I strongly agree with the standards-aligned assessments, but do not believe we need separate summative testing that doesn’t deliver value to teachers or students.  If assessments are truly standards-aligned, we can get the data we need for policy purposes from teachers.
  • Eliminate school grades. Create a new set of accountability metrics that separately assess student proficiency and student growth
    • This should be the simplest item on the list, but hard to get politicians to agree to.  We need to focus on learning growth because that is what parents expect from our schools–how did my child grow from Day 1 to Day 180?  If that’s a full year (or more) of progress, the school did a good job. 
  • Ensure DPI has sufficient staff and resources to provide support for low-performing schools
    • It’s important to remember the current state superintendent unilaterally cut this support, which was delivering results for schools and students.  The next superintendent can solve this, if that person understands how to strategically and creatively deploy resources–as I do.
  • Create a statewide definition of the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers
    • I’ve worked on the strong memorandum of understanding that we use today in my district to make clear what the responsibilities are on both the police and the school side.  This must include training for how to work with students/young people, exceptional children, and on other issues such as implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.

Leave a Reply