North Carolina judge orders $1.7 billion to fund public education in latest Leandro case development
In a hearing on Wednesday, North Carolina Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered the state to provide $1.7 billion to increase funding for public education.
This is the latest decision in the Leandro case that began 27 years ago and aims to provide a solid basic public education for students in North Carolina.
“Today’s landmark order provides essential and long-needed investments for our students and our schools – and, ultimately, for our communities and our economy,” said Mary Ann Wolf, President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of NC, in a press release on November 10. “This includes research-based investments in human resources, better access to educational opportunities, and improvements in accountability and funding systems that impact education every day.”
Five low-income school districts and families originally filed a lawsuit in 1994 seeking public funding for equal opportunity for a solid basic education.
In the 1997 decisions Leandro v. State and 2004 Hoke County Board of Education v. state, the North Carolina Supreme Court declared that the state had a constitutional obligation to provide a solid basic education for all children.
“Since at least the inception of the case in 1994, the State of North Carolina has failed to provide students with the education due to them under our constitution,” reads a press release from the November 10 from Every Child NC. “This failure was borne disproportionately by students of color, students from low-income families, English language learners, students with disabilities, and rural students.
Little has been done in the 17 years since that 2004 decision.
Governor Roy Cooper established the Commission on Access to a Strong Basic Education in 2017 to address issues highlighted in Leandro’s original ruling.
A year later, Lee appointed WestEd, an independent consultant, to provide recommendations for improving North Carolina’s public schools.
A comprehensive eight-year recovery plan was submitted to the court in March this year based on the work of WestEd and the Commission on Access to Strong Basic Education.
In June, Lee signed an order that North Carolina must implement the plan.
Now, Lee has ordered the transfer of $1.52 billion from the General Fund to the state Department of Public Instruction, $189.8 million to the Department of Health and Human Services, and $41.3 million to dollars to the UNC system as part of the comprehensive turnaround plan. Transfers must go through the director, comptroller and treasurer of the state budget.
“The Court has given the state seventeen years to achieve an appropriate remedy, and many of the opportunities offered by the state have failed to deliver on their promise,” Lee said in the order. “Seventeen classes of students have since gone to school without a solid basic education.
North Carolina had $8 billion in reserves and more than $5 billion in projected revenue in August, according to the court order. However, the state has not yet fully allocated the funds to the overall recovery plan.
“Legislators can’t just take away this right because they don’t like it,” Cooper said in a Statement of November 10 on Twitter. “We have an effective, court-approved roadmap to improve education in North Carolina, and it’s time to do it.”
Some Republican leaders in the General Assembly call Lee’s order to transfer state funds unconstitutional. A joint statement by Senate Speaker Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore cites the 2020 Cooper v. Berger. North Carolina Supreme Court ruling that upheld that the General Assembly has sole authority over state funds.
“This case evolved into an attempt by politically allied attorneys and the governor to enact the governor’s preferred budget plan via court order, cutting off the legislature from its proper and constitutional role,” the joint statement read. .
In the Nov. 10 ruling, Lee suspended his order for 30 days to give other branches of government time to take further action in accordance with the court’s findings.
“As for the 30-day stay that Judge Lee imposed in his Nov. 10 order, it’s unclear what will happen next,” said Christine Scheef, legal counsel and director of policy at the North Carolina School. Boards Association, in an email.
She said the Supreme Court will likely have to resolve the issue.
“The governor and legislative leaders have differing views on the case and on the judge’s power to order the distribution of public funds to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Public Instruction, and the UNC system,” Scheef said in the email.
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