Karlie Love Hudson
39 Campbell L. Rev. 457 (2017)
The North Carolina Constitution guarantees all children the right to an “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”1 For the increasing number of English Learners (ELs)2living in North Carolina, that guarantee remains unfulfilled. From 2003 to 2014, North Carolina’s population of EL students increased by over 30,000 and now comprises 6.5% of the State’s public school students.3 This growth will likely continue. In fact, scholars predict that by the 2030s, EL students will comprise approximately 40% of the national school-aged population.4
In testimony given to the House Education and Labor Committee regarding the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on EL students, Peter Zamora, Regional Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, stated, “[EL students’] academic performance levels are significantly below those of their peers in nearly every measure of academic performance.”5 This remains true in North Carolina. The most recent North Carolina Consolidated State Performance Report indicates that in the 2014–2015 school year, only 18.46% of EL students attained proficiency on the English Language Proficiency assessment.6In fact, of those students who met the criteria to exit the language instruction program and be reclassified as “monitored former English learners” (MFEL),7only 26.21% were proficient in reading and language arts.8The graduation rate of North Carolina EL students who entered high school in 2012–2013, and were expected to graduate in 2016, was 57.2%—the lowest of any subgroup by more than 10%.9
This data raises concerns about whether North Carolina’s growing population of EL students receives a sound basic education. The North Carolina Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of North Carolina in Leandro v. State, requires that all North Carolina public school students have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.10 While North Carolina has taken steps towards improving outcomes for these students, the statistics above indicate that the State still falls short of this constitutional requirement.11
Part I of this Comment provides background on North Carolina’s constitutional guarantee that all students have an opportunity to receive a sound basic education as explained in Leandro. Part II examines North Carolina’s current system of educating EL students and demonstrates how that system has fallen short of the Leandro requirement. Part III considers how other states have recently addressed the needs of EL students. Part IV acknowledges and commends the positive measures taken by leaders in North Carolina, critiques the shortcomings of those measures, and offers suggestions for further improvement. Ultimately, this Comment argues that the State has denied EL students their constitutionally guaranteed right to a sound basic education. In order to remedy this violation, the State should implement changes to teacher licensure requirements to ensure that all teachers are prepared to adequately instruct EL students. Additionally, the State should implement more dual-language programs throughout North Carolina.