Leandro judge takes issue with Hood

Published November 9, 2023

By Howard Manning, Jr.

(Editor's note: This column was first released in Higher Ed Works, November 7, 2023)

In an op-ed piece that appeared in North Carolina newspapers last weekend, conservative columnist John Hood argued that high-poverty schools in the state already get more funds than schools in wealthier districts.

The 29-year-old Leandro lawsuit was transformed from an argument that poor school districts were underfunded to one that all schools were underfunded, Hood said.

“In other words, the case was no longer about equity. It was about adequacy,” he wrote. “… Let’s finally put an end to the Leandro case, which attempted to substitute litigation for legislation. That was never a good idea.”

And what’s wrong with arguing for adequacy? Or that the General Assembly has failed to fulfill its constitutional duty?

Nowhere in Hood’s column does the central finding of the Leandro case – that the state constitution guarantees every child in North Carolina an opportunity for “a sound basic education” – appear. 

The column provoked a spirited response to Hood from retired Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr., a Republican who presided over the case for 19 years after the NC Supreme Court first issued a ruling on it in 1997.

Here is Manning’s reply, edited slightly for clarity and punctuation:

John Hood: (I) read your op-ed in which you pontificated once again from your perch at (the) John Locke Foundation. While your facts on funding in public schools (are) accurate, your op-ed failed to inform the public of what the Leandro case held as a matter of constitutional law in North Carolina.

In Leandro 1, decided by unanimous Supreme Court in 1997: 

The North Carolina Constitution provides that every child is entitled to the equal opportunity to obtain a SOUND BASIC Education and that constitutional right belongs to each and every child in North Carolina, period.

The Supreme Court defined what a Sound Basic Education is in plain English and you know exactly what that is.

In Leandro 2, decided after trial and evidence and 4 separate orders which I wrote, then appealed: The unanimous Republican majority affirmed my decisions with (the) exception of pre-K and found that the Executive and Legislative branches were responsible for seeing the right to the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education for all children in the public schools, and to be Leandro-compliant every child was constitutionally entitled to: (a) a competent certified principal; (b) a competent certified teacher in every classroom; and (c) resources to support the needs of the school.

In your op-ed, you wrongly argued that Leandro should end. As I clearly explained to you and others at a public televised forum in Rocky Mount in 2006, the Leandro case established and quantified the constitutional right of each child to the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.

Reduced to essentials, this constitutional right cannot be wished away by you or the educational establishment that has failed to provide the opportunity to all children in NC for the last 26 years.

You may wish the right did not exist, but the Constitution holds otherwise and the numbnuts who want the Constitutional right of children to vanish should get a grip and focus on seeing that quality classroom instruction and leadership is in every classroom rather than whine about an inconvenient truth.

– Judge Howard Manning, Jr., retired