State defends school efforts

The State of North Carolina is doing everything it can under the current budget crisis to improve public schools and offer more hope and help for at-risk students, state leaders told a judge in court papers filed Monday.

In 90 jargon-heavy pages, state education leaders outline a series of changesand reforms they’ve made in recent years. Among them: tying teacher and school bonuses to at-risk student performance, taking over failing schools and easing the way for people without traditional educational backgrounds to train as teachers.

The papers were filed in response to a suit by the state’s poor schools, which claim the state’s state funding systems public schools-based on student population-is unfair.

Gov. Mike Easley also sent along his executive order, issued last week, directing the state to hire 900 more teachers to reduce class sizes and expand the More at Four pre-kindergarten program to 6,000 more students. Easley has said he’ll find the $54 million for those expansions, regardless of whether legislators include the money in their 2002-03 budget.

"Between Gov. Easley’s letter and our documents, we’re laying it all out for the judge. We’re showing him everything we’re doing and want to do," said state Board of Education, NC Chairman Phil Kirk. "The last time, we weren’t aggressive enough. We didn’t do a good job. This time, we’re showing Judge Manning everything. I can’t think of anything else we could be doing."

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning is the trial judge in an historic and now-near-epic lawsuit filed eight years ago by parents and administrators in several poor school systems.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and several other larger school systems later joined the suit.

In a complicated multi-part ruling, Manning sided with the plaintiffs, agreeing that the state has not done enough to ensure that students at risk of failure receive a "sound basic education."

So far, Manning has left it up to the executive and legislative branches to decide how to fix problems in the system. But he seems to be growing impatient with state leaders.

Earlier this summer, state leaders gave Manning a two-inch-thick stack of pamphlets and memos outlining the state’s progress in improving the schools. Manning rejected that response.

In Monday’s filing, Kirk and State Supt. Mike Ward suggest that Manning give reforms implemented over the past few years time to work.

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