599 S.E.2d 365 (N.C. 2004), 530PA02, Hoke County Bd. of Educ. v. State

Docket Nº:530PA02.
Citation:599 S.E.2d 365, 358 N.C. 605
Party Name:HOKE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; Halifax County Board of Education; Robeson County Board of Education; Cumberland County Board of Education; Vance County Board of Education; Randy L. Hasty, individually and as guardian ad litem of Randell B. Hasty; Steven R. Sunkel, individually and as guardian ad litem of Andrew J. Sunkel; Lionel Whidbee, individua
Case Date:July 30, 2004
Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina
 
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Page 365

599 S.E.2d 365 (N.C. 2004)

358 N.C. 605

HOKE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; Halifax County Board of Education; Robeson County Board of Education; Cumberland County Board of Education; Vance County Board of Education; Randy L. Hasty, individually and as guardian ad litem of Randell B. Hasty; Steven R. Sunkel, individually and as guardian ad litem of Andrew J. Sunkel; Lionel Whidbee, individually and as guardian ad litem of Jeremy L. Whidbee; Tyrone T. Williams, individually and as guardian ad litem of Trevelyn L. Williams; D.E. Locklear, Jr., individually and as guardian ad litem of Jason E. Locklear; Angus B. Thompson II, individually and as guardian ad litem of Vandaliah J. Thompson; Mary Elizabeth Lowery, individually and as guardian ad litem of Lannie Rae Lowery; Jennie G. Pearson, individually and as guardian ad litem of Sharese D. Pearson; Benita B. Tipton, individually and as guardian ad litem of Whitney B. Tipton; Dana Holton Jenkins, individually and as guardian ad litem of Rachel M. Jenkins; Leon R. Robinson, individually and as guardian ad litem of Justin A. Robinson, Plaintiffs,

and

Asheville City Board of Education; Buncombe County Board of Education; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education; Durham Public Schools Board of Education; Wake County Board of Education; Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education; Cassandra Ingram, individually and as guardian ad litem of Darris Ingram; Carol Penland, individually and as guardian ad litem of Jeremy Penland; Darlene Harris, individually and as guardian ad litem of Shamek Harris; Nettie Thompson, individually and as guardian ad litem of Annette Renee Thompson; Ophelia Aiken, individually and as guardian ad litem of Brandon Bell, Plaintiff-Intervenors,

v.

STATE of North Carolina and the State Board of Education, Defendants.

No. 530PA02.

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

July 30, 2004

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On discretionary review pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-31 (2003), prior to a determination by the Court of Appeals, of orders entered 24 November 1997 and 9 February 1999 and a judgment entered 4 April 2002, which explicitly incorporates memoranda of decisions dated 12 October 2000, 26 October 2000, and 26 March 2001 as amended by order dated 29 May 2001, all of which were entered by Judge Howard [358 N.C. 608] E. Manning, Jr., in Superior Court, Wake County. Heard in the Supreme Court 10 September 2003.

Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein, L.L.P., by Robert W. Spearman, Raleigh, for plaintiff-appellees.

Tharrington Smith, L.L.P., by Ann L. Majestic and Debra R. Nickels, Raleigh; and Hogan & Hartson, L.L.P., by Audrey J. Anderson, pro hac vice, Washington, DC, for plaintiff-intervenor-appellants and -appellees.

Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by Edwin M. Speas, Jr., Chief Deputy Attorney General; Grayson G. Kelley, Senior Deputy Attorney General; Thomas J. Ziko, Special Deputy Attorney General, for defendant-appellants and -appellees.

Ann W. McColl, Raleigh, on behalf of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, amicus curiae.

Ferguson Stein Chambers Adkins Gresham & Sumter, P.A., by S. Luke Largess, Charlotte; and Thomas M. Stern, Durham, on behalf of the North Carolina Association of Educators, amicus curiae.

Seth H. Jaffe on behalf of The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Inc.; Deborah Greenblatt on behalf of Carolina Legal Assistance, Inc.; Sheria Reid and Carlene McNulty on behalf of North Carolina Justice & Community Development Center; Gregory C. Malhoit, Raleigh, on behalf of The Rural School & Community Trust; John Charles Boger, Chapel Hill, on behalf of The University of North Carolina School of Law Center for Civil Rights; and Romallus O. Murphy, Greensboro, on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, amici curiae.

ORR, Justice.

The State of North Carolina and the State Board of Education ("the State"), as defendants, appeal from a trial court order concluding that the State had failed in its constitutional duty to provide certain students with the opportunity to attain a sound basic education, as defined by this Court's holding in Leandro v. State, 346 N.C. 336, 488 S.E.2d 249 (1997). We affirm the trial court on this part of the State's appeal with modifications.

In addition, the State appeals those portions of the trial court's order that direct the State to remedy constitutional deficiencies

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relating to the public school education provided to students in Hoke County. In its memoranda of law, the trial court, in sum, ultimately [358 N.C. 609] ordered the State to: (1) assume the responsibility for, and correct, those educational methods and practices that contribute to the failure to provide students with a constitutionally-conforming education; and (2) expand pre-kindergarten educational programs so that they reach and serve all qualifying "at-risk" students. As for the trial court's first remedy, we affirm, with modifications. As for the trial court's second remedy, we reverse, concluding that the mandate requiring expanded pre-kindergarten programs amounts to a judicial interdiction that, under present circumstances, infringes on the constitutional duties and expectations of the legislative and executive branches of government.

On cross-appeal, plaintiff-intervenors argue that the trial court erred by including educational services provided by federal funds in making its determination of whether the State is meeting its constitutional obligation to provide North Carolina's children with a sound basic education. We disagree with plaintiff-intervenors' contention and, therefore, affirm the trial court.

I. Introduction

This case is a continuation of the landmark decision by this Court, unanimously interpreting the North Carolina Constitution to recognize that the legislative and executive branches have the duty to provide all the children of North Carolina the opportunity for a sound basic education. This litigation started primarily as a challenge to the educational funding mechanism imposed by the General Assembly that resulted in disparate funding outlays among low wealth counties and their more affluent counterparts. With the Leandro decision, however, the thrust of this litigation turned from a funding issue to one requiring the analysis of the qualitative educational services provided to the respective plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors.

In remanding this case to the trial court in Leandro, this Court issued the following directive: "If ... [the trial] court makes findings and conclusions from competent evidence to the effect that defendants in this case are denying children of the state a sound basic education, a denial of a fundamental right will have been established." 346 N.C. at 357, 488 S.E.2d at 261. The Court then went on to conclude that if such a denial [of a fundamental right] is indeed established by the evidence, and defendants are unable to justify such denial as necessary to promote a compelling government interest, "it will then be the duty of the [trial] court to enter a judgment granting [358 N.C. 610] declaratory relief and such other relief as needed to correct the wrong while minimizing the encroachment upon the other branches of government." Id.

From the outset, we note that the ensuing trial lasted approximately fourteen months and resulted in over fifty boxes of exhibits and transcripts, an eight-volume record on appeal, and a memorandum of decision that exceeds 400 pages. The time and financial resources devoted to litigating these issues over the past ten years undoubtably have cost the taxpayers of this state an incalculable sum of money. While obtaining judicial interpretation of our Constitution in this matter and applying it to the context of the facts in this case is a critical process, one can only wonder how many additional teachers, books, classrooms, and programs could have been provided by that money in furtherance of the requirement to provide the school children of North Carolina with the opportunity for a sound basic education.

The Leandro decision and the ensuing trial have resulted in the thrust of the instant case breaking down into the following contingencies: (1) Does the evidence show that the State has failed to provide Hoke County school children with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education, as defined in Leandro; (2) if so, has the State demonstrated that its failure to provide such an opportunity is necessary to promote a compelling government interest; and (3) if the State has failed to provide Hoke County school children with the opportunity for a sound basic education and failed to demonstrate that its public educational shortcomings are necessary to promote a compelling government interest, does the relief granted by the trial court correct the failure with minimal encroachment

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on the other branches of government?

We note that defendants raise three issues on appeal. The first--whether the trial court applied the wrong standards for determining when a student has obtained a sound basic education--is essentially an argument that questions whether the evidence presented at trial adequately demonstrated a violation of the constitutional right at issue. As such, it will be addressed in this Court's substantive analysis of whether the trial court properly determined that plaintiff school children are being denied their fundamental right for an opportunity to receive a sound basic education. See Part IV of this opinion. Defendants' remaining issues, as argued in their brief, concern the appropriateness of the...

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