News & Observer: Judge said NC schools need more money. But Phil Berger says COVID-19 may limit that

News & Observer: Judge said NC schools need more money. But Phil Berger says COVID-19 may limit that

Since mid-March, North Carolina’s public schools have been closed due to the pandemic, forcing schools to move to remote learning. The pandemic has put on display the inequities of the state’s education system.

Decades of cuts has left the education system without the structure to assist students who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Yet, Senate leader Phil Berger has stated that the state budget may limit education spending. 

From News & Observer:

Senate leader Phil Berger warned at a news conference this week that the state expects to face a revenue shortfall of billions of dollars caused by the coronavirus shutdown.

Education advocacy groups say, though, that state lawmakers can’t use the pandemic as an excuse.

“There is a lot of talk about Constitutional rights these days, and folks should remember that the right to a sound basic education is a State Constitutional right of all North Carolina children,” Melanie Dubis, attorney for the school districts suing the state, said in a statement Wednesday.

“The constitutional violations and the unmet needs of poor and disadvantaged children have existed for over two decades and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates those needs. The State of North Carolina has agreed, and Judge Lee has found, that these longstanding needs can no longer go unmet. Plaintiffs expect the State to honor its Constitutional obligations.”

This comes after lawmakers have stalled since January to adhere to Superior Court Judge David Lee’s signed court order in the Leandro school funding case ordering state leaders to “work expeditiously and without delay to take all necessary actions” to improve the state’s education system.

According to recent data, North Carolina ranks 48th in the nation in school funding and dead last among states in the South, with per pupil funding more than $4,400 below the national average.

Yet, lawmakers refused for months to increase funding based on recommendations despite North Carolina executing larger annual increases in 15 of the last 50 years.

State lawmakers had no excuse for their failure in providing equal and adequate resources to all students across North Carolina prior to the pandemic, and continue not to. 

Now is the time for state lawmakers to rightfully invest in education and fulfill the constitutional mandate that every child have access to a quality education.

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Alanna Joyner

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