The education lawsuit Leandro v. State has been dragging on for 25 years now. The case was originally filed in 1994, and the Supreme Court ruled on it back in 1997. But the parties to the dispute are still entrapped in what feels like a never-ending lawsuit. The latest development in the case came just a few months ago when the results of a report written by an independent consultant on the case, WestEd, were released to the public.
In January, the presiding judge, Judge David Lee, issued a consent order that declared the report “will inform decision-making and this Court’s approach to the case.” JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops thinks that is a mistake.
For one thing, the report makes some inconsistent and potentially misleading claims about per-pupil funding. To illustrate, Dr. Stoops quotes two opposing passages from the report:
“When adjusted to 2018 dollars, per-pupil spending in North Carolina has declined slightly overall, about 6% since 2009–10.” (p. 21)
“Furthermore, when adjusted to 2018 dollars, per-pupil spending in North Carolina has declined slightly overall, about 2% since 2009–10, and year-over-year funding has been relatively flat (see Exhibit A2).” (p. 176-177)
The report itself shows in “Exhibit A2” a two percent decrease – not six percent – and, as Dr. Stoops notes, that exhibit does not show “relatively flat” per-pupil spending:
Between 2010 and 2014, per-pupil spending decreased, mostly due to lingering effects from the Great Recession and Medicaid shortfalls… [and] Exhibit A2 shows that inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending increased by 6.2 percent between 2014 and 2018 as revenue rebounded [from the great recession] and the General Assembly reigned in Medicaid spending.
The timeframe itself is also potentially misleading. Dr. Stoops writes:
Ultimately, a timeframe is an arbitrary decision, but it should provide an appropriate context for the broader discussion. I believe that the WestEd report fails to do so.
As mentioned above, the Great Recession ended in June 2009, so the 2009-10 expenditure reflects some of the lingering fiscal effects from the recession…
A more significant concern is that Leandro v. State of North Carolina did not begin in 2010. The case was filed in 1994 and decided by the N.C. Supreme Court in 1997. WestEd researchers include student performance data starting in the early- and mid-1990s (see exhibits 10 through 15), so why not also document expenditures for the same period?
Dr. Stoops brings to light several other potential concerns including (1) inadequate analysis of the factors surrounding the per-pupil spending decreases such as the recession and Medicaid shortfall, (2) mentions to “deep cuts,” with no explanation of or reference to what WestEd means, and (3) downplaying the significance of public school employee benefits in tightening the education budget.