The public schools enroll 1,500,000 students: 51% White, 26% African American, 15% Latino, and 3% Asian, with 52% living in poverty, and 6% learning English. The State spends $83425 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.” N.C. Const. art. I, § 15.
“Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 1.
“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.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 2.
“State school fund. The proceeds of all lands…moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to the State for purposes of public education…shall be paid into the State Treasury and, together with so much of the revenue of the State as may be set apart for that purpose, shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 6.
In 1917, in Board of Education v. Board of Commissioners of Granville County, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that “these constitutional provisions were intended to establish a system of public education adequate to the needs of a great and progressive people, affording school facilities of recognized and ever-increasing merit to all the children of the state and to the full extent that our means could afford and intelligent direction accomplish.”
In 1987, the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to review a State appellate court’s dismissal of Britt v. North Carolina State Board of Education, a case seeking equal per-pupil funding.
In 1997, in Leandro v. State, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the state constitution’s right to education “is a right to a sound basic education. An education that does not serve the purpose of preparing students to participate and compete in the society in which they live and work is devoid of substance and is constitutionally inadequate.” The Court remanded this case for a trial and enumerated the criteria for a “sound basic education,” which reflect the guidelines set forth by the Kentucky Supreme Court in Rose v. Council for Better Education.
In 2004, after the trial on the rural school districts portion of the Leandro case, known as Hoke County v. State (Leandro II), the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the State funding system failed to provide adequate resources for “the opportunity for a sound basic education.” The Court ordered the State to correct funding deficiencies and assigned a Superior Court to monitor compliance.
In 2011, the Superior Court determined that preschool funding cuts and other changes recently passed by the Legislature violated children’s constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. In 2012, the appellate court affirmed, and the Legislature amended the offending statutory provisions. In 2014, after major funding cuts, a motion seeking enforcement of the Hoke County (Leandro II) ruling was denied.
In 2010, in Sugar Creek Charter School, et al., v. State, a Superior Court granted the State’s motion to dismiss this case, which alleged constitutional violations because the State did not give charter schools capital funding. The appellate court affirmed.
In 2014, in North Carolina Virtual Academy v. North Carolina State Board of Education (SBOE), the North Carolina Supreme Court denied review of lower court rulings that the SBOE acted within its authority in taking no action on plaintiff’s application to operate.
In 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the trial court in Hart v. State, finding that the school voucher program did not violate the constitutional provisions quoted above. The trial court had found that the voucher law did not require private schools receiving vouchers to be accredited, employ credentialed teachers, be subject to any curriculum requirements, or demonstrate any level of student achievement, thereby violating the constitution.
In 2016, in Silver, et al. v. Halifax County, a State Superior Court dismissed this educational opportunity case against a county that maintained racially segregated school districts and inadequately funded the predominantly African-American districts. Plaintiffs are considering an appeal.