Multi-billion dollar NC school funding case goes before judge next week amid budget negotiations

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Though a judge set a deadline for next week for state leaders to fully fund a multibillion-dollar plan for education, they have not reached an agreement on whether to do that, leaving it unclear what will happen next.

Superior Court Judge David Lee is holding a hearing Monday after telling state leaders early last month they must fund what’s known as the Leandro plan, which was developed as part of a long-running court case tied to the state’s Constitutional obligation to provide children a “sound, basic education.”

At the time the judge said he was “very disheartened” by the progress made and said he could take action.

This week, Democrats and education advocates have held events highlighting the case and calling on Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and Republican legislative leaders to fully fund the plan.

It calls for at least $5.6 billion in new spending through 2028, to help pay for a variety of things including employee raises, additional positions, and NC Pre-K slots.

While Cooper has called for funding the first two years of the plan in the budget he proposed earlier this year, Republicans in the state House and Senate proposed funding parts of it.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore rejected the notion the judge could order the General Assembly to spend the money.

“I believe we know best how to fund North Carolina schools by North Carolina legislators who are elected from all around this state,” he said. “Don’t just take one thing, throw money at it. And, don’t think, for example, what’s going to work in Columbus County is going to work in Hertford County.”

Ted Shaw, a law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, disagreed with that assessment but said it’s ultimately unclear how this gets resolved.

“None of us can say what’s gonna happen,” said

Shaw said the judge has options such as ordering more negotiations or holding people in contempt, though he thinks that’s unlikely.

“I don’t think the court wants a constitutional crisis,” he said.

He pointed to similar cases in other states, some of which have also gone on for many years.

Washington state’s Supreme Court fined the state $100,000 per day starting in August 2015 for failing to follow a previous order to develop a plan to fully fund schools, according to Reuters. The fine wasn’t lifted until June 2018, when the court found the state was in compliance. The money generated from the fines was targeted to K-12 education.

The issue over funding North Carolina’s plan could end up in the state Supreme Court. Shaw said he’s optimistic there will be some resolution to this issue and is concerned about what could happen if it remains “stalemated.”

“If anything is going to happen, it’s because the parties finally come to understand their respective obligations and want to fulfill them and want to get past this stalemate,” he said. “These are not good conflicts if they stay stalemated. And, who gets hurt most? The students.”

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