Saint Andrews Session Supports Campaign for Equality in Public Education

On March 16, 2021, the Session of Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church voted support for an advocacy campaign for Equality in Public Education.

Education inequities have existed in North Carolina for centuries. Current efforts to address these injustices began in 1994 with a case brought by 5 counties’ school systems claiming the state had failed to meet its constitutional duties to provide equal educational opportunities for all its students. Commonly known as Leandro, the case also sought a court-imposed remedy to correct the violation. The North Carolina Supreme Court, in 1997, unanimously agreed that the constitution requires every child be provided ‘an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.’

The last two decades of efforts by courts and the state to achieve that equitable sound basic education have fallen short. The recession that started in 2008 reversed years of improved education funding. According to the NC Justice Center, between 2009 and 2019, the following changes have taken place in public schools and their funding:

  • 35% fewer teacher assistants
  • 56% fewer textbooks
  • 56% reduction in monies for supplies and materials
  • Elimination of funding for professional development and mentors
  • Teacher compensation is 27% lower than comparable professions in NC

In addition, the costs of our underperforming schools are borne disproportionally by African-American, Hispanic and other minority children. 

In March 2018, Leandro presiding judge David Lee, appointed WestED, a non-profit consulting firm hired by the State of NC, to provide ‘detailed, comprehensive written recommendations for specific actions necessary to achieve sustained compliance with the constitutional mandate.’  The agreement of the judicial and executive branches of our state government on the Leandro case along with the clear roadmap of the WestEd report makes this a once in a generation opportunity for providing sound education for all children in North Carolina.

Motion to Session

The Committee for Social Justice offers this motion to the Saint Andrews Session:

To approve action by the Committee for Social Justice to educate members of Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church on the pertinent issues outlined by Leandro case and WestEd report; to put forward opportunities for advocacy in support of the Leandro decision mandate and the recommendations of the WestEd report including activities such as calling legislators, signing petitions or other appropriate actions; and to undertake advocacy to oppose legislation such as NC House Bill 32 that would expand vouchers for private schools and weaken public education.

Q&A and Supporting Resources

Question: Where can I learn more about the Leandro Decision and the WestEd recommendations?

Answer:

  1. Leandro Case Summary and Timeline: https://www.ncforum.org/leandro/
  2. WestEd Recommendation Executive summary: Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina: Executive Summary (everychildnc.org)

Question:  Why is the Committee bringing this proposal to Session?

Answer:

  1. This proposal of advocacy and education aligns with two of our core values at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church:
  2. Help and Serve others
  3. Connect with God and People
  4. Education in our country is a shared public good. As a society, we have a stake in ensuring every student receives the education they need to become flourishing adults and active informed citizens.
  5. Inequality in public school funding further widens the economic and social gap in our country and society.
  6. The Leandro decision occurred 24 years ago and the State Legislature has not made any measurable progress in addressing the inequity of school funding and policy.  The social justice events of the past few years have once again illuminated the urgent need to address the lack of progress in providing quality education to all North Carolina children.

Question: What other organizations are advocating in support of the Leandro mandate and WestEd report recommendations?

Answer:  Below are links to four (of the many) organizations supporting the above issues:

  1. Pastors For NC Children – https://pastorsforncchildren.org/
  2. EverychildNC – http://everychildnc.org
  3. NC Justice Center – https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/
  4. Public Schools First – https://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/

Question: What is NC House Bill 32 and why does the committee recommend opposing it?

Answer: NC House Bill 32, the Opportunity Scholarship (or voucher) Expansion Bill would increase direct funding for private schools instead of adequately funding public schools across the state.  Vouchers are awarded using public taxpayer funds for qualifying students to attend private or religious schools. House Bill 32 would expand the existing voucher program with fewer guidelines and many more taxpayer dollars.

Question: Does NC House Bill 32 apply to or affect charter schools?

Answer: No, HB 32 applies only to private schools, not charter schools which are part of the public school system and guarantee access for all children. 

Question:  What are the disadvantages of public funding for private schools?

Answer: Vouchers are awarded using public taxpayer funds for qualifying students to attend private or religious schools. Even though the State of NC has a voucher program in place, House Bill 32 would expand that program with fewer guidelines and many more taxpayer dollars.

Not only are vouchers terribly expensive, they do not serve the purpose of better educating our young people:

  • Student Success – There is no evidence that private or religious schools offer a higher quality education than properly funded public schools
  • Student Safety – Private schools do not have to conduct background checks on employees and volunteers the way public schools must.
  • Financial Accountability – Voucher programs divert tax dollars to largely unregulated private entities that run private schools. Taxpayers are not informed about student performance or how the taxpayer dollars are spent.
  • Academic Accountability – Private schools do not have to hire licensed teachers, and are not subject to the academic standards imposed on public schools
  • Admissions – Private schools are not required to serve free/reduced lunch, offer transportation, or provide special education services- and they can select the students they admit.
  • Tuition Gap – Even with taxpayer-funded subsidy, most middle-class families cannot afford to pay the difference between the subsidy and the high cost of a private school. This fact is in opposition to the reason for vouchers in the first place.
  • Oversight – The use of public tax dollars to fund private school education demands careful monitoring to ensure standards for schools accepting voucher funds are met. The cost of developing and administering such standards is significant and is an additional cost to taxpayers.
  • Teacher Retention – Public education’s tenure and pension system offers security that compensates for relatively low pay and that helps to retain experienced teachers. Without these benefits, fewer young teachers would enter and remain in the profession.