Hailed as a landmark case and a victory for the state’s poorest school children, the Leandro ruling affirmed July 30 by the North Carolina Supreme Court is placing a national spotlight on Parker Poe and the litigation team headed by partner Robert Spearman and assisted by partner Melanie Dubis.
Their ten-year fight for quality education for poor children in Hoke County and other financially stressed school districts is being hailed by many legal experts as the most significant court decision in North Carolina history, and one that ranks on par nationally with Swann and Brown in education circles.
Spearman was featured recently on NPR’s "Talk of the Nation" and has been fielding calls from reporters across the country since the Supreme Court’s unanimously affirmed Judge Howard Manning’s earlier finding that the state had failed in its constitutional duty to provide at-risk children in Hoke County with a "sound basic education."
The Supreme Court also found that the state must provide additional assistance to ensure that the state’s poorest students succeed in public schools, and said that students’ scores on state achievement tests could be used to measure how well the state is meeting the educational needs of at-risk students..
While acknowledging the positive impact pre-kindergarten programs are having in helping at-risk students enter school more on par academically with their more affluent peers, the court reversed the trial court directive to require pre-kindergarten programs as the sole remedy.
Since the ruling and thanks to Judge Manning’s insistence, the State Board of Education proposed a new funding stream that would provide up to an additional $223 million annually.
When the General Assembly failed to appropriate the funds during the summer session, Governor Mike Easley took action in August to ensure an additional $12 million for Hoke County and other rural districts that serve large numbers of poor children.
"I’m relatively optimistic that the General Assembly will take some real action," says Spearman. "This is a big issue for North Carolina, one we must address now if we want our most disadvantaged children to be able to take their rightful place as contributing citizens in the future."
Head of Parker Poe’s Antitrust and Business Torts Practice Group, Spearman has extensive experience in many areas of civil and commercial litigation and is considered one of the nation’s top business litigation lawyers.
"Leandro represents a significant economic development issue for our state, one with great significance for the business community," says Spearman. "Public education is the economic engine in our state and one of the key drivers of our growth. If we don’t take care of this now, we will pay for it later. Most important, providing a sound basic education is the right thing to do for our children."
Although Spearman has won major victories in business law and has clerked for a U.S. Supreme Court Judge (The Honorable Hugo Black), many feel Leandro is the greatest achievement of his 34-year legal career and a major public service for North Carolina.
To listen to Spearman’s NPR interview from the August 16 show for Talk of the Nation, go to http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3853587 .
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