Judge Orders NC To Transfer $ 1.7 Billion To Fund School Plan

ByRichard C. Sloan

Nov 10, 2021


A North Carolina judge ordered the state to transfer $ 1.7 billion from its reserves to increase funding for public education, an action GOP lawmakers called “rogue” and a violation of the law. the law.

State Superior Court Judge David Lee ruled on Wednesday that North Carolina had failed to provide students with the constitutional guarantee of a good basic education. To remedy the breach, Lee ordered the state budget director, state treasurer and state comptroller to “take the necessary steps to transfer the full amount” to fund the next two years of ” a plan developed by an education consultant.

Lee, speaking at a hearing in Raleigh, said the state’s constitution empowers courts to act when other branches of government fail to meet their constitutional obligations. He said “the deference of the court is over” after waiting 17 years since the state Supreme Court last ruled the state was failing to meet its education obligations.

“The repeated state failure is a constitutional violation that must be remedied,” Lee said.

Lee’s order will not take effect for 30 days. But even then, the money is unlikely to be transferred anytime soon, as the leaders of the Republican-controlled General Assembly are expected to fight what they call an unconstitutional order. GOP lawmakers say the state constitution only allows lawmakers to spend money.

GOP accuses “judicial misconduct”

House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, called Lee a “rogue judge in a press release Tuesday ahead of the ruling.” He also warned that the order “would amount to judicial misconduct and receive the strongest possible response.”

GOP lawmakers could try to impeach Lee. It would only take a simple majority in the House to remove Lee, but it would take a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict and remove him. But Lee would be barred from pursuing the case until the impeachment trial is held by the Senate.

“This case has turned into an attempt by politically allied lawyers and the governor to adopt the governor’s preferred budget plan via a court order, depriving the legislature of its proper and constitutional role,” said Moore and the leader. of the Senate, Phil Berger, in a joint statement Wednesday. .

Moore and Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, also said executive officials, including GOP State Treasurer Dale Folwell, “take an oath to the Constitution, not a trial judge. not elected at county level ”.

“A judge does not have the legal or constitutional authority to order a withdrawal from the general state fund,” Moore and Berger said.

But Democratic lawmakers have said it’s the Republicans who are breaking the state constitution.

“The reality remains that Republican leaders have thumbed their noses at court and justice,” Senator Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat from Wake County, said at a press conference on Tuesday. Sen. Berger argued that Justice Lee’s motion violates the separation of powers.

“But the failure to comply with Judge Lee’s order is a real constitutional violation that separates our school children from the real chance to achieve the American dream.”

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Reverend Sean Allen carries a candle poster depicting the year 2001, one of 28 years since the Leandro court case began in 1994, during a prayer vigil hosted by the Pastors for NC Children at Bicentennial Plaza in Raleigh, NC on Monday October 18, 2021. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

NC does not provide a “solid basic education”

Leandro’s lawsuit was originally filed in 1994 by low-income school districts to get more funding from the state. The case is named after a Hoke County student who has since graduated from college.

Over the years, the State Supreme Court has ruled that the State Constitution guarantees every child “the opportunity to receive a solid basic education” and that the State does not fulfill this obligation. Lee, a retired Union County judge and registered Democrat, was assigned the case by the Supreme Court in 2016.

In June, Lee approved a 7-year plan agreed to by the State Board of Education, the administration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the plaintiffs. The $ 5.6 billion plan includes things like a 5% pay hike for teachers, more funding for low-income school districts, and the expansion of the NC Pre-K program.

The new state budget is still in the works, so it’s unclear how much of the Leandro plan will be funded. But Lee criticized lawmakers for not fully funding the plan’s first two years, roughly $ 1.7 billion, in their previous budget proposals.

In September, Lee gave state lawmakers a deadline to fund the Leandro Plan or he would step in. A similar lawsuit has been used by courts in other states to increase funding for public education.

The state has a multibillion dollar budget surplus

Last month, Lee asked plaintiffs to submit a proposed court order on how the court could fund the plan.

The plaintiffs proposed that Lee order that $ 1.5 billion be provided to the state Department of Education, $ 190 million to the state Department of Health and Human Services and $ 41 million. to the UNC system to implement the Leandro plan.

The plaintiffs point out that the state is sitting on a budget surplus of more than 6 billion dollars. The plaintiffs also claim that, despite the GOP’s claims, the state constitution empowers the courts to act when other branches refuse to fulfill their constitutional obligations.

“At this time, the state’s ability to meet this constitutional obligation is not in question,” according to the proposed court order. “Unrestricted funds from the public treasury greatly exceed the funds necessary for the implementation of the overall recovery plan. “

Blame the “educational institution”

But retired Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, a Republican who presided over the Leandro case for 19 years, argued the courts had no power to order the money to be provided.

In a letter Tuesday to state lawmakers and Governor Cooper that was obtained by the Carolina Journal, Manning also blamed the state’s lack of educational progress on “the educational institution.”

“Leandro demands that children, not the educational institution, have the constitutional right to equal opportunities to obtain a solid basic education,” Manning wrote. “It has not happened and is not happening now, as little children are not learning to read and write due to failure in classroom instruction as required by Leandro.”

Manning said the problem is that not all classes have a “competent, certified and well-trained teacher.” Supporters of the court order say the Leandro plan will provide the resources schools need to hire more highly qualified teachers.

This story was originally published November 10, 2021 2:57 pm.

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T. Keung Hui has been covering Kindergarten to Grade 12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school staff, and the community understand the vital role education plays. North Carolina. Its main focus is Wake County, but it also covers education issues statewide.