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North Carolina Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Hoke County v. State

As part of their deliberations on the appeal of a lower court's decision in favor of plaintiffs, North Carolina's Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on September 10th in the long-standing school funding adequacy case, Hoke County v. State.

In a packed courtroom with an overflow crowd viewing on closed circuit television, the seven justices peppered attorneys Robert Spearman, representing the original plaintiff poor rural school districts, Ann Majestic, representing the plaintiff-intervenor urban districts, and Special Deputy Attorney General Thomas Ziko, representing the State defendants, with questions on all aspects of the case. The justices seemed to focus especially on the lower court's conclusion that an adequate education for "at-risk" students must include pre-school.

Both of the attorneys representing plaintiffs urged the supreme court to uphold the Superior Court's ruling in Hoke County, arguing that schools in the rural and urban districts are not receiving adequate funding to be able to provide their students with the "opportunity for a sound basic education," as required by the North Carolina constitution. Bob Spearman asserted that the decision below was well-grounded on extensive and overwhelming evidence.

Arguing for the defendants, Tom Zitko asked the justices to overturn the trial court's decision, pointing out that the trial judge had found the State's learning standards, teacher licensing, curriculum, and its assessment system to be constitutionally sound. He claimed that the judge had erred by relying on below-grade-level test scores to show that some students were not getting the constitutionally guaranteed opportunity.

As reported by newsobserver.com, the supreme court's decision is anticipated sometime during the current school year.

For a brief summary of developments in this case and links to court decisions, go to North Carolina.

Prepared September 12, 2003