Even in the midst of a pandemic, legislators’ priorities on Leandro are key

note: this piece was originally published by Cardinal & Pine

As North Carolina enters the fifth month of the COVID-19 outbreak, much talk has been made about a looming economic catastrophe of undetermined proportions.  But pandemics don’t relieve state lawmakers of their constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education.”  If our legislators disagree, they need to be replaced.


In 1994 a lawsuit was brought against the state of North Carolina and the State Board of Education by plaintiffs from five economically distressed counties (Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson and Vance).  

The suit alleged that the state was not providing an equal opportunity to a high quality education and was thus failing to meet its obligation under the North Carolina Constitution, which holds:

“The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.” (Article I, Section 15)

“The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.” (Article IX, Section 2)

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that those sections of the North Carolina Constitution “guarantee every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.”  

In its landmark decision, the court defined a sound basic education as one that provides students with sufficient understanding of academic content to “enable the student to function in a complex and rapidly changing society,” and to “make informed choices with regard to issues that affect the student personally or affect the student’s community, state, and nation.”  

The court said that education must also equip students with the skills they need in order to “successfully engage in post-secondary education or vocational training” and “compete on an equal basis with others in further formal education or gainful employment in contemporary society.”

In 2002, a lower court found the state of North Carolina to be in violation of students’ right to a sound basic education.  

The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that decision in 2004 and ordered the state to remedy its failure by providing the following:

*That every classroom be staffed with a competent, certified, well-trained teacher who is teaching the standard course of student by implementing effective educational methods that provide differentiated, individualized instruction, assessment and remediation to the students in that classroom.  

*That every school be led by a well-trained competent principal with the leadership skills and the ability to hire and retain competent, certified and well-trained teachers who can implement an effective and cost effective instructional program that meets the needs of at-risk children so that they can have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education by achieving grade level or above academic performance.  

*That every school be provided, in the most cost effective manner, the resources necessary to support the effective instructional program within that school so that the educational needs of all children, including at-risk children, to have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education, can be met.”

In ensuing years, very little progress was made in improving education funding or successfully addressing poor education outcomes.  

Then in 2018, the judge tasked with monitoring the state’s implementation of the Leandro decision appointed consulting agency WestEd to conduct a detailed review of North Carolina’s education system and offer recommendations.  

WestEd’s comprehensive report was released to the public in December 2019.  It states that North Carolina is even further from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education now than it was when the Supreme Court’s decision was originally issued more than two decades ago.  

It further notes that “the future prosperity and well-being of the state’s citizens requires successfully educating all of its children…North Carolina’s current education system fails to meet the education needs of many of its children and thereby fails to provide for the future success of these individuals, their communities, and the state.”

The WestEd report provides a detailed road map for improvements that need to be made to ensure that North Carolina is meeting the educational needs of its students.  

It identifies eight “critical need” areas:

1.  Revise the state funding model to provide adequate, efficient, and equitable resources.

2.  Provide a qualified, well-prepared, and diverse teaching staff in every school.

3.  Provide a qualified and well-prepared principal in every school.

4.  Provide all at-risk students with the opportunity to attend high-quality early childhood programs.

5.  Direct resources, opportunities, and initiatives to economically disadvantaged students.

6.  Revise the student assessment system and school accountability system.

7.  Build an effective regional and statewide system of support for the improvement of “low-performing” schools.

8.  Convene an expert panel to assist the Court in monitoring state policies, plans, programs, and progress.

The report lays out specific policy recommendations on how the state can meet the eight critical needs.  Many of the policies recommended by WestEd would require the state to provide additional resources, which would obviously come with a price tag.

General Assembly leadership unmoved by Leandro mandate:

As soon as the WestEd report became public, Republican leaders in both the North Carolina House and Senate began complaining about not being involved in WestEd’s work.  

A spokeswoman for longtime Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the state had made “incredible strides in education” since the GOP took over in 2011 and added “It is impossible to get a comprehensive look at education funding and policy in the state without talking directly to the people who create the laws and allocate the money.  It seems to me that it’s awfully difficult to credibly analyze policy choices without ever speaking to the people who made those choices.”

House Speaker Tim Moore’s spokesman also indicated findings would have been different had state legislators given input on the report.

This seems like a good time to mention that under the leadership of Berger and Moore, North Carolina’s state legislature has repeatedly cut taxes for individuals and corporations, primarily to the benefit of our state’s wealthiest shareholders and individuals.   According to North Carolina Budget and Tax Center data, as of the last round of rate reductions North Carolina has $3.6 billion less per year than it would have had otherwise.

Those massive tax cuts have taken away money that could have been spent on implementing WestEd’s policy recommendations.  They have made it far more difficult for North Carolina’s public schools to provide a sound basic education to all of our students.

Along with the COVID-driven economic climate, this depleted revenue has provided legislators who don’t necessarily care to see strong public schools with a convenient excuse for failing to act on WestEd’s recommendations.

In a May press conference, Senator Phil Berger responded to a question about adding education funding to meet the Leandro mandate by essentially saying the court couldn’t make the legislature pay:

“Our constitution does not provide for judges to appropriate dollars.  We’ve said on multiple occasions if judges want to get into the field of appropriating they need to run for the legislature.  We’ll see what the order is, but again we cannot spend money we don’t have.”

Senator Berger is right that the Leandro order lacks any power of enforcement.  A judge cannot allocate revenue from the general fund–it requires having a legislature that believes in following the law and wants to do the right thing for North Carolina’s children.  

But the fact that Republican leadership has methodically and intentionally diverted immense amounts of potential education funding into the pockets of corporations and wealthy individuals does not absolve this legislature of its constitutional obligations either.  

Action plan calls for changes this year:

In January 2020, parties to the Leandro case (both plaintiffs and defendants) set about putting together Phase 1 of an 8 year action plan as required by Judge David Lee.  

The Fiscal Year 2021 Action Plan was submitted to the court this month.

The plan acknowledges the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on North Carolina’s economy.  It notes that when parties began working on the plan, North Carolina had its lowest unemployment in a decade and a healthy budget surplus and now we are facing a forecasted $4.2 billion revenue shortfall.  

However, the action plan also states unequivocally “It is vital that the state does not reduce funding commitments to K-12 public education and early childhood education and developmental supports.  The challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic must not result in the State falling further behind in its efforts to meet the constitutional standard for all children in North Carolina, particularly at-risk students.”

For the upcoming fiscal year, the Leandro action plan recommends a variety of steps which are aligned with critical need areas identified in the WestEd report. 

In part, those steps include:

*Improving efforts to recruit diverse, well-prepared teachers through expansion of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program

*Specifically working to increase ethnic diversity of North Carolina’s teaching corps–our teachers are 80% white and serve students who are 52% students of color–and ensure “all teachers employ culturally responsive practices

*Providing more effective mentoring for beginning teachers

*Improving compensation with an average 5% raise for teachers and instructional support staff

*Increasing funding for whole child support (school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists)

*Expanding access to high-quality principal preparation programs

*Revising funding formulas so more resources are directed toward students with greatest need

*Developing capacity to support lowest-performing schools

*Increasing access to high-quality Pre-K

The estimated cost of taking the steps outlined in the FY 2020-21 Action Plan is $427 million above current funding levels.

If you don’t like the policy, change the policy makers:

I reached out to the offices of both Senator Berger and Speaker Moore to ask about the possibility of the General Assembly moving on the above recommendations in the next fiscal year.  Neither bothered to respond.

Public education’s needs are crystal clear.  The path forward has been meticulously delineated.  We have to stop kicking the can down the road and have the integrity to say that the time for action is now.

And if leaders in North Carolina’s state legislature continue to be negligent toward the Supreme Court’s decision and their constitutional obligations, we must work like hell to replace them in November with individuals who believe in adequately funding our schools so we can provide our students with the opportunities they deserve.


Proposed legislation would require NC DPI to develop “comprehensive firearm education course” for high school students

Proposed legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly would direct the Department of Public Instruction to develop a firearm education elective class for high school students.

The bill would require such courses to be developed in collaboration with “law enforcement agencies and firearms associations.” The classes would not permit the use of live ammunition:

The State Board of Education, in consultation with law enforcement agencies and firearms associations, shall develop a comprehensive firearm education course that can be offered as an elective at the high school level to facilitate the learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles. The firearm safety course shall include history, mathematics, and firearms functions and applications. Firearm safety shall be a key component of the course of study. The course shall rely on input from law enforcement agencies and firearms associations as well as related scientific engineering and design-related educational sources. The course of instruction shall not permit the use or presence of live ammunition. The course shall be conducted under the supervision of an adult who has been approved by the school principal in accordance with G.S. 14-269.2(g)(1).”

The proposed committee substitute gutted an old bill filed by Senator Jeff Jackson in early 2019 which clarified conditions of pretrial release. The new version is renamed “2nd Amendment Protection Act” and in addition to mandating the firearm education class would also relax various concealed carry laws and restore rights of convicted felons to possess firearms under certain conditions.

You can see the proposed bill in its entirety below:


Pressure mounts to change name of Halifax County school named for slave owner, honor Black HBCU champion instead

Co authored by Rodney D. Pierce and Justin Parmenter

A movement is afoot in Halifax County–birthplace of the Leandro lawsuit and one of North Carolina’s most economically distressed counties–to change the name of William R Davie Middle STEM Academy.  An overwhelming 93 percent of the school’s population are students of color (77% Black, 10% Indigenous/American Indian, 4% Multi-racial, 2% Hispanic). 

A petition started by 2019 North Carolina Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year and Halifax County native Rodney D. Pierce requests that the Halifax County Schools Board of Education change the name to that of county native Dr. James E. Cheek Sr.  The petition currently has over 1300 signatures.

William R. Davie is considered to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  He served as Governor of North Carolina and helped found the University of North Carolina. 

According to census documents, Davie also enslaved Africans to work his plantations and increase his personal wealth.  The 1790 United States census shows Davie owning 36 slaves:

The 1820 census recorded Davie–then living in Chester County, South Carolina–as owning 116 slaves to operate his cotton plantation:

In addition to enslaving Black people, Davie consistently fought to strengthen the institution of chattel slavery in the United States.  In 1787 he threatened a Southern delegation walkout at the Constitutional Convention, insisting that “the business of the convention was at an end” if the enslaved were not counted as part of state populations. His insistence laid the groundwork for the Three-Fifths Clause of the original US Constitution that counted human property as 3/5s of a human being, allowing the slaveholding South more representation in the US House of Representatives. 

Without this influence, historians have cited that important pro-slavery and anti-Indigenous legislation wouldn’t have passed, including the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (allowed Missouri to join the Union as a slave state), the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (the forced displacement and genocide of tens of thousands of Indigenous people on the Trail of Tears to land west of the Mississippi River), the Compromise of 1850 (included the Fugitive Slave Act that required citizens and officials of free states to return all enslaved freedom seekers to owners upon capture and allowing slavery in Utah, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia), the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 (created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska while opening the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain territory to slavery). 

Founding Father James Madison, himself a slave owner, came up with the idea of the Electoral College based off of the Three-Fifths Compromise. Instead of “direct election” — what we’d call the popular vote — which Madison actually thought was best, he created a system where presidential electors based on the number of members of Congress a state had would decide the Presidency, which gave the South a significant advantage for decades. So, Davie had a role in establishing the controversial system of electing the president which persists to this day. 

In 1794, during his time in the state legislature, Davie introduced a bill entitled “An Act to prevent the owners of slaves from hiring to them their time, to make compensation to patrols, and to restrain the abuses committed by free negroes and mulattoes.” This legislation permitted patrollers to “inflict a punishment, not exceeding fifteen lashes, on all slaves they may find off their owner’s plantation, or travelling on the Sabbath, or other unreasonable time, without a proper permit or pass.” At Davie’s hands, not only would the enslaved in NC not be able to earn money when they had free time, but they would be whipped if found at any time without proper identification. 

Despite his reprehensible history, Davie’s name adorns a school where the majority of the people who pass through it daily – whether students, employees, parents, etc. – would not have been recognized by him as fellow human beings. 

It may have made sense to name the school after Davie when it was dedicated in 1941 and all those who passed through it were White. That was nearly 80 years ago. 

Pierce and the other signers of the change the name petition are calling on the HCS school board to rename William R Davie Middle STEM Academy for Dr. Cheek. 

Born in Roanoke Rapids, Cheek served as president of Howard University for 20 years (1969-1989), transforming the HBCU into “The Black Harvard.” Afterwards, he served as president emeritus.

The petition states “A passionate advocate for HBCUs, Cheek befriended Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, becoming an advisor to each on Black institutions of higher learning. In 1980, Cheek was named Washingtonian of the Year and in 1983, President Reagan bestowed upon him the nation’s highest civilian honor:  The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The name of a prominent Black educator, who was a titan in Black higher education, is better suited to a building where predominantly Black children learn and Black adults work than the name of a slave-owning White supremacist who exploited Black people for wealth and political power.” 

Dr. Cheek’s family has given their blessing to the change.

If you’d like to sign the petition to change the name of William R Davie Middle STEM Academy you can find it here.

Email addresses for the Halifax County Board of Education are here.

North Carolina court grants protester restraining order against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

A North Carolina Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order against the city of Charlotte and CMPD Chief Kerr Putney today which prevents the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

Here’s the press release from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

N.C. Superior Court Grants Protester Restraining Order Against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

CMPD Has Used Irritants, Batons and Exploding Projectiles on Citizens in Recent Weeks

Protesters, journalists, and advocates in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, with the help of national and local civil rights groups, won a victory for personal rights and the Constitution today. A N.C. a North Carolina Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order against the City of Charlotte and its police chief to halt the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

“We are happy with the court’s ruling,” said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We hope it will mean there is no more unlawful use of force – including groundless orders to disperse – by law enforcement officers at the Juneteenth action in Charlotte this afternoon, other events this weekend.”

“Black people have been harmed for centuries under the guise of law enforcement, which uses the term ‘protect and serve,’ but they have never protected or served the black community,” said Rev. Corinne Mack, President of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP, the lead plaintiff in the case. “What happened in Charlotte is another example of the abusive and brutal tactics that law enforcement uses against black people somewhere in this country every day.”

Earlier in the day, the groups filed a lawsuit against Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief, Kerr Putney, and the city of Charlotte, alleging Charlotte police confronted peaceful protesters with tear gas, police in riot gear, exploding projectiles and tactics designed to menace peaceful citizens.

Read the overall lawsuit here.

Meet North Carolina’s favorite white supremacist, Zebulon Vance

As monuments to white supremacy around the world continue to fall, this might be a good time for North Carolinians to learn more about Zebulon Vance.

Vance was born in Buncombe County in 1830 to a family that owned 18 slaves.  He served as a Confederate officer during the Civil War before becoming Governor of North Carolina and later a US Senator.  

According to 1860 census documents, Vance himself owned six slaves, ranging in age from 26 to 2.  Their names are not included on the records.  

In letters he wrote shortly after the end of the Civil War, Vance revealed his feelings about emancipation:

“There are indications that the radical abolitionists … intend to force perfect negro equality upon us. Should this be done, and there is nothing to prevent it, it will revive an already half formed determination in me to leave the U.S. forever.”

In 1870, when Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner introduced legislation aimed at ending racial discrimination in juries, schools, transportation and public accommodations, Vance argued against the bill, claiming he was in favor of civil rights for Black Americans but concerned about what he termed “social rights”:

“There is no railway car in all the South which the colored man cannot ride in. That is his civil right. This bill proposes that he should have the opportunity or the right to go into a first-class car and sit with white gentlemen and white ladies. I submit if that is not a social right. There is a distinction between the two.”

Vance began giving a speech in 1870 called “The Scattered Nation,” which he would repeat hundreds of times. In it he called for religious freedom and tolerance among all Americans for Jewish people. “The Scattered Nation” made mention of

“…the African negro, the descendants of barbarian tribes who for 4,000 years have contributed nothing to though in close contact with civilization”

Despite his steadfast support for the institution of slavery and his consistent racist ideology, Zebulon Vance is celebrated in North Carolina through various monuments and public buildings that are named after him.

A statue of Zebulon Vance stands outside the State Capitol in Raleigh, and in downtown Asheville, a 75 foot obelisk bears his name. (A move is currently underway to remove or rename the Asheville obelisk)

North Carolina schools named after Vance include Vance High School in Charlotte, Vance Elementary in Asheville, and Zeb Vance Elementary in Kittrell.

Kittrell, NC lies in Vance County, a county which was formed in 1881 from Franklin, Warren and Granville counties in an effort to concentrate Black votes (which typically went Republican at the time) in one area and preserve surrounding counties as Democratic strongholds.

Zebulon Vance was absolutely tickled to have a North Carolina county named after him and thereafter referred to Vance County as “Zeb’s Black baby.


It’s important to understand our history and to learn from it, but there’s a not-so-fine line between learning from our history and celebrating historical figures who fought for the right to own and brutalize other human beings.

If North Carolina is ready to do some soul searching, taking a hard look at the practice of making our students attend schools named for Zebulon Vance would be a good place to start.


Thank you to my friend and North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year Rodney Pierce for pointing me in the right direction on historical documents.