Testing the judge

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. must feel a little like a parent who is trying to persuade a kid to get down the stairs to catch a school bus.

No matter how many times the judge tries to make himself clear to state officials — that they must take more demonstrative action to increase funding for poor schools systems — they just want to stay upstairs and keep playing Nintendo.

Manning ruled on the issue long ago, and the Leandro case, a suit by smaller, poor systems joined by larger urban ones, has been a milestone in establishing the state’s responsibility to give all students an equal chance at obtaining a "sound basic education."

State officials, who are appealing a ruling by Manning and the state Supreme Court affirming that obligation, maintain the responsibility lies with local schools.

Yet that is an unfortunate posture. It does nothing to help the schoolchildren of this state who find themselves without the educational opportunities they deserve just because they happen to be poor, or to live in areas where schools lack resources.

Manning has been charged with carrying out the high court’s directive, and and he means to do it. Last week, he wrote a tough letter to state school officials making that fact clear: "You may no longer stand back and point your fingers and deny responsibility when a school system is ineffective," he wrote. He demanded to know what "leadership and guidance" the state plans to provide in Hoke County, which is the focus of his latest effort to prod officials to act.

It’s true the state has taken some steps in improve education system, including the ABCs accountability program, and the legislature is debating expansion of other efforts to help younger students. But Manning is doing his job in holding the state’s feet to the fire. Having some systems flush with resources and thus opportunity for students and having others that don’t measure up is discriminating against some students just because they happen to be disadvantaged or to live in an area that is. That’s not fair, and it’s not right, and the judge, thankfully, is determined to see to it that the state makes it both.

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