Judge Howard Manning, Jr., the Superior Court judge in the Leandro case that changed the course of public education in North Carolina by finding that the state has a constitutional duty to give every student a sound education, spoke recently at a lecture sponsored by Campbell University's School of Education. Brought against the state by several low-wealth counties, including Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson and Vance, the plaintiffs in the Leandro case claimed that the state of North Carolina was not providing equal education for all public schools. "Hoke County High School said the state wasn't even providing enough money for the high school to offer a basic chemistry class, and there were a lot of other poor counties that thought they should also have more equity in funding," Manning said. The state moved to dismiss the case, saying that education in North Carolina, as defined by the state constitution, had no substantive or quantitative definition. By then rich school districts such as Wake, Durham and Charlotte-Mecklenburg had also joined the plaintiffs. "At that time, education in North Carolina meant that turning on the heat, putting a teacher in the classroom and supplying a curriculum was all that was required under the state constitution," Manning said. But Leandro changed the meaning of education in North Carolina. In July of 1997 Burley Mitchell, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, wrote a unanimous opinion which included a substantive definition of education. "It is very simple, yet very profound," said Manning. "Under this new ruling our constitution requires that every child who is a citizen of our state must have an equal opportunity to obtain an education." More precisely, every child must have sufficient ability to read, write and speak the English language. He or she must have knowledge of fundamental math, science and economic and political systems in order to be a productive citizen. And the student must have sufficient academic and vocational skills to successfully engage in post secondary education. "That means when you go to community college, you shouldn't have to take remedial English or math before you can be successful in the curriculum," Manning said. Also resulting from the Leandro case were quantitative measurements such as end of course testing and programs like "More at Four" and "Smart Start" to ensure students' success. Citing positive test score statistics from 2005, Manning reported that 90 percent of North Carolina's elementary schools were scoring at or above grade level; 79 percent of middle schools scored 80 percent or above; and 39 percent of North Carolina high schools scored above 80 percent. "The Leandro case gave meaning to public education in North Carolina," Manning said. "Now it has life to it; it has teeth." Manning learned from the case, however, that it takes more than money to make a school successful. "You must also have high expectations for your kids and competent, certified teachers in the classroom who know how to teach the children in their care," he said.
Photo Copy: Judge Howard Manning, Jr. addresses students at Campbell University's Lynch Auditorium recently.