NC Business Leaders: Court must order state to fulfill Constitution's promise to NC children

Published August 4, 2022

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

North Carolina Supreme Court chamber

North Carolina Supreme Court chamber

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was printed in the Capitol Broadcasting Company Opinion section. The following are highlights from the friend of the court (amici curiae) brief signed in support of implementation and funding of The Comprehensive Remedial Plan in the Leandro cases to assure that North Carolina meets its constitutional obligation to provide every child with access to a quality education. It was signed by 54 of the state’s top business leaders including the current chair of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and three former chairs. The complete list of signers follows is at the conclusion of these highlights. You can read the full text of the brief, prepared by counsel for the business leaders Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, here.

“The right to education is unique among the rights guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution’s Declaration of Rights. Unlike other provisions in the Declaration, Article I, Section 15 does not content itself with declaring the right—it expressly imposes a duty on the State to protect it. (‘The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.’ (emphasis added). That is exactly what the Court should do here, building on its earlier decisions in Leandro v. State (1997 -- ‘Leandro 1’) and Hoke County Bd. of Educ. v. State (2004 -- ‘Leandro II’). The Constitution imposes the duty to guard the right to education on ‘the State,’ and it is ultimately this Court’s responsibility to enforce that guarantee. …

“The benefits that flow from a sound basic education are legion. A quality education provides each student with essential skills and experiences needed for gainful employment, personal independence, strong citizenship, and financial stability. Knowledge, which comes from quality education, is ‘the handmaid of virtue’ and essential for individual happiness. …

“Providing quality schools and instruction inures to the benefit of all North Carolinians. … This Court has also been specific in recognizing additional general benefits that flow from quality education: improving voter engagement, fostering scientific and artistic innovation, and combating crime. …

“Improving education in the state is essential to create an inviting environment for businesses considering relocating here, and it is vital for those who … seek to start and grow their businesses in North Carolina. Business leaders depend on an educated workforce prepared to contribute to a modern economy, and ensuring an educated and well prepared work force is vital for the future of their businesses and many others across the state. …

“As North Carolina evolved over the 150 years following the 1868 revisions to its organic law, our state’s attention to the economic benefits of education has never wavered. …

“The North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1868 … made extensive changes to strengthen public education and insulate it from the whims and indifference of the General Assembly. …

“It is evident that the people of North Carolina secured a constitutional right to sound public education to prevent the evils that befell the state in its infancy— and to safeguard the economic prosperity that comes from strong public education. …

“This Court provided the trial court with the framework to determine whether the State is meeting its constitutional duty to provide North Carolina children with this fundamental right. The evidence developed over more than twenty years demonstrated conclusively that it has not.

“Our state government institutions and governmental leaders agree on this point: education is good for students, good for business, and good for the North Carolina economy. …

“There is unanimity among key stakeholders regarding the economic benefits that our state will realize from implementing the Comprehensive Remedial Plan. All three branches of government understand, and research confirms, that we must improve education to improve our economic situation. The trial court’s remedy is the first, critical step in making those improvements a reality. …

The Comprehensive Remedial Plan is a remarkable accomplishment, the most thorough plan ever developed in North Carolina, and possibly in any state, to assure full opportunity for all children. The State must not be deterred from this path to success and must never return to half-measures that fail countless children. …

“In blunt and purely economic terms, (business leaders) understand that our children and their educational attainment will determine North Carolina’s economic future. We fail to prepare them fully at our peril. …

“If the State continues to delay and defer the funding necessary to bring its educational efforts in compliance with what the Constitution demands, the strength of the North Carolina economy will recede along with the financial condition of its citizens. …

“The Comprehensive Remedial Plan represents the trial court’s effort to comply with the constitutional command that the State must guard and maintain the right to education by preparing a plan that would satisfy the State’s obligation to ensure that every child in North Carolina receives a sound basic education. … Providing a quality education, including implementing the actions in the Comprehensive Remedial Plan, will fulfill a promise that has been deferred far too long. …

“Children born in 2004, the year that this Court decided Leandro II, graduated from high school this year. Because the State has failed to take the steps necessary to provide a sound basic education, many of these graduates face the same challenge as their parents. Eighteen years later, too many still lack the skills necessary to join “contemporary society’s gainful employment ranks.” As business leaders in the state, amici need to ensure an educated and skilled work force to support the continued growth and success of their businesses. They refuse to accept that another generation of students should be denied the opportunity for a sound basic education. …

“In light of the untenable delay our students have endured, the remedy set forth in the trial court’s November 10, 2021 order is the practical and constitutionally appropriate means of carrying out that duty. …

“This Court should affirm the portion of the November 10, 2021 Order directing the appropriate state officials to transfer funds necessary to implement years 2 and 3 of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan. The Court should also affirm the trial court’s determination, in the April 26, 2022 Order, of the appropriate amount of funds necessary to implement these phases of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan.”

Below, in alphabetical order, are the business leaders who submit the brief:
Adam Abram: Chairman, James River Group Holdings, Ltd.
Sepi Asefnia: President & CEO, Sepi Engineering, Inc. and Chair, NC Chamber
James Babb: Former President & CEO, Jefferson Pilot Communications
Rye Barcott: Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Double Time Capital
Ronald J. Bernstein: Retired CEO, Liggett Vector Brands
Crandall Bowles: Former Chair & CEO, Springs Industries
Erskine Bowles: Co-Founder, Carousel Capital and President Emeritus, UNC System
Thomas W. Bradshaw, Jr.: Retired Managing Director, Citigroup; Former Chair, NC Citizens for Business & Industry (now NC Chamber); Former Chair, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce; Former Chair, Public School Forum of NC
John R. Bratton: Director, Wake Stone Corporation
Samuel T. Bratton: CEO and President, Wake Stone Corporation
Theodore D. Bratton: Chairman, Wake Stone Corporation
Jack Clayton: President of Business Strategy, TowneBank
Sue W. Cole: Managing Partner, Sage Leadership & Strategy, LLC; Former Mid-Atlantic CEO, U.S. Trust Company
Sandra Wilcox Conway: Former Manager, Excellence in Education, The First Union Foundation
Peter Conway: Founder (Retired), Trinity Partners
John Cooper: Chair, Mast General Store
Don Curtis: Founder & CEO, Curtis Media Group
Richard L. “Dick” Daugherty: Former Vice President & Senior N.C. Executive, IBM; Former Chair, NC Citizens for Business & Industry (now NC Chamber); Emeritus Board of Directors, Research Triangle Park; Charter Board of Directors, Public School Forum of N.C.
Bert Davis: President, 95 Impact Capital, Inc.
James M. Deal, Jr.: Former Chair, Watauga County Board of Education; Former Chair, Watauga Board of County Commissioners; Former Chair, Board of Trustees, Appalachian State University
Clay Dunnagan: Founder and Manager, Anchor Capital
John Ellison, Jr.: President, The Ellison Company
Frank E. Emory Jr.: EVP, Chief Administrative Officer, Novant Health
Ken Eudy: Founder and Former CEO, Capstrat
Jim Fain: Retired Bank Executive; Former Secretary, North Carolina Department of Commerce
Anthony Foxx: Former Mayor of Charlotte; Former US Transportation Secretary
Paul Fulton: Former President, Sara Lee Corporation; Former Dean, Kenan-Flagler Business School; Chairman Emeritus, Bassett Furniture Industries; Founder and Chair, Higher Education Works
Hannah Gage: Former Owner, Cape Fear Broadcasting Company; Former Chair, UNC Board of Governors
Alston Gardner: Managing Director, DGI Capital, LLC
Patti Gillenwater: President and CEO, Elinvar Leadership Solutions
James F. Goodmon: Chair & CEO, Capitol Broadcasting Company
James and Ann Goodnight: SAS Institute
Greg Hatem: Founder & CEO, Empire Properties and Empire Eats
Barnes Hauptfuhrer: Former CEO, Chapter IV Investors, LLC; Former Co-Head, Corporate & Investment Banking, Wachovia Corp.
Melody Riley Johnson: Director, Strategic Accounts, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices
Steven J. Levitas: Senior Vice President, Pinegate Renewables
Elizabeth Martin: Producer, Wild Violet Media, LLC
Easter A. Maynard: Board Chair, Golden Corral Corporation
James H. Maynard: Board Chair/Founder, Investors Management Corporation; Founder, Golden Corral Corporation
Hugh L. McColl, Jr.: Former Chair & CEO, Bank of America
Dr. Bill McNeal: Author (with Tom Oxholm): A School District’s Journey to Excellence: Lessons From Business and Education; Former Superintendent, Wake County Schools; National Superintendent of the Year
Carlton Midyette: Venture Capital Investor
Thomas B. Oxholm: Executive Vice President, Wake Stone Corporation; Former member, Wake County Board of Education; Author (with Dr. Bill McNeal): A School District’s Journey to Excellence: Lessons From Business and Education
Roger Perry: Chairman, East West Partners Club Management
Orage Quarles, III: Former President & Publisher, The News & Observer; Co-Founder, Journalism Funding Project
Thomas W. Ross: Chairman of the Board, Bausch & Lomb Company; Director, Bausch Health Companies; President Emeritus, UNC System; Retired Superior Court Judge
Thomas R. Sloan: Founder, Sloan Capital Company
Gordon Smith III: Retired Investment Advisor; Founder and CEO, Wood Pile LLC
Sherwood Smith: Former Chair, NC Citizens for Business & Industry (now NC Chamber); Former Chair, Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, RTP; Charter Board Member, Public School Forum of N.C.
Norris Tolson: Retired Business Executive; CEO & President, Carolinas Gateway Partnership; Former CEO, North Carolina Biotechnology Center; Former Secretary, NC Departments of Commerce, Revenue, and Transportation
Richard Urquhart: Retired Vice President, Investors Management Corporation
J. Bradley Wilson: President & CEO Emeritus, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of N.C.; Former Chair, UNC Board of Governors
David Woronoff: President, The (Southern Pines) Pilot and Business North Carolina Magazine
Smedes York: Chair, York Properties; Former Mayor, City of Raleigh