North Carolina judge considering additional action in school funding case

North Carolina judge considering additional action in school funding case
·3 min read

A North Carolina judge is considering injunctions, fines and other penalties if the General Assembly does not comply with the court-ordered plan to fund the state's schools.

Superior Court Judge David Lee held a court hearing Monday in the Leandro v. the State of North Carolina case. It currently calls for the Legislature to provide additional education funding to provide public schools students with a "sound, basic education," according to the North Carolina Constitution.

Lee had given lawmakers until Friday to fully fund the education improvement plan that calls for $5.6 billion in new K-12 funding by 2028, but the state has not finalized the budget for the next two years.

Plaintiffs claimed students in poor school districts were not receiving the same educational resources as students in wealthy school districts. They argued the state was not doing what it took to ensure it met its constitutional requirement.

Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed fully funding the plan, while the House and Senate have called for spending less than the Leandro Plan.

Attorneys for the state said lawmakers still are negotiating the biennium budget, and it may not be finalized until a "matter of weeks," attorneys for the state said.

"I do think that there's been tremendous progress on the budget that the executive and legislative branches are endeavoring to the best their ability to get it done," an attorney for the state said.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs presented cases from other states where judges issued special orders, injunctions and penalties to compel lawmakers to fund similar plans. For instance, a Washington judge issued $100,000-a-day sanctions to move the court's plan. The state accumulated $105.2 million in contempt fines as a result.

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, slammed Lee on Monday for his apparent interest in the 2016 ruling in the Montoy v. State of Kansas case, where a district judge ordered schools closed if the state did not provide the required funding. Lee probed attorneys about the case, and Berger referred to Lee's inquires as "recklessness." Berger's office also blasted Lee in a news release, calling him "unhinged."

"This is yet another example of why the founders were right to divide power among the branches of government, giving power to create law and spend money with the Legislature, not an unaccountable and unelected trial judge," Berger said in a statement. "Judge Lee makes a mockery of our constitutional order with every additional hearing."

Cooper is reviewing an undisclosed version of the state's spending plan for the next two years. Legislative leaders decided to involve the governor in the process before a final vote to ensure the budget goes into law.

Cooper's initial budget proposal included spending nearly $726 million in fiscal year 2022 and nearly $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2023 to execute the actions in the Leandro plan. The House's published proposal directed $370 million in fiscal year 2022 and $382 million in fiscal year 2023 toward the plan. The Senate's published proposal directed $192 million in fiscal year 2022 and nearly $214 million in fiscal year 2023 to fulfill the plan's objectives.

Lee directed the plaintiffs Monday to submit a proposed court order by Nov. 1 for the General Assembly to fund the Leandro plan. The state will have a week to respond.

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Tags: News, North Carolina, State

Original Author: Nyamekye Daniel, The Center Square

Original Location: North Carolina judge considering additional action in school funding case

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