Appeal lacks appeal

NC State Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office sends a contradictory and disappointing signal in its appeal of Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr.’s ruling on public education.

Manning’s careful ruling backs the common-sense proposition that funding schools North Carolina must provide an equal chance at an adequate education to children in rural or urban, rich or not-so-wealthy counties. Cooper’s office now argues that Manning erred in ordering the use of end-of-grade test scores to judge whether students are receiving that constitutionally mandated "sound basic" education. Yet if Manning is off base in that respect, why can the state use the tests to decide if a child is promoted to the next grade and to reward teachers?

State officials seem to want to have accountability from school districts regarding each child’s education but no responsibility of their own when some districts fail at the task. The state Supreme Court’s central point, in what is commonly called the Leandro decision, was that North Carolina’s constitution does place on the state’s shoulders the burden of providing an equal opportunity to a sound basic education to every child.

The practical and satisfying effect of that reasoning is that the General Assembly needs to provide sufficient funding to school districts that routinely fall short in educating their students. That’s only fair, because poorer counties would never be able to raise the revenues to enable their children to catch up once their schools fall behind.

Governor Easley seems committed to the spirit of Manning’s order. His More at Four preschool initiative and priority on smaller class sizes at the lower grades address elements of the written decision that focus on building strong foundations for students in poorer districts.

At the same time, Easley seems to have done little to discourage the appeal. The argument from Cooper’s office, meanwhile, runs counter to the clear logic of Manning’s ruling — and hardly helps matters in seeking to send the issue up the appellate ladder again. The attorney general needs to take another look at who would be hurt if the Supreme Court were to agree that Manning was wrong.

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