RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Tuesday called for state leaders to spend billions of dollars more on education as he prepares for closed-door budget talks with Republicans and a judge has set a deadline for the state to implement a school spending plan.
Cooper addressed the Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education, which he formed in 2017 to address issues highlighted in the long-running Leandro court case.
“We have the support of the majority of the people of this state, and we have a court order,” said Cooper. “Not only is this the right thing to do in and of itself, it is the smart thing to do.”
Judge David Lee recently gave state leaders an Oct. 18 deadline to fully implement the Leandro plan, which calls for an increase of at least $5.6 billion in new spending on schools by 2028.
The plan calls for funding more slots for NC Pre-K, raising salaries for teachers and other education professionals and funding more support staff for schools, among other provisions.
Cooper has proposed fully funding the first two years of the plan in the budget he submitted to the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier this year.
The commission approved a resolution Tuesday calling on state leaders to implement it, noting the state currently has more than $7 billion in unreserved cash available and has forecasted additional multi-billion-dollar surpluses in the years ahead.
“The state has, finally, a responsibility, an obligation, a judgment that it must comply with,” said Rick Glazier, a member of the commission and executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center.
Republicans were still meeting Tuesday to try to resolve the remaining differences they have with each other before presenting a budget proposal to Cooper to consider. In the separate House and Senate budgets, neither chamber fully funded the first two years of the Leandro plan but did call for increases in education spending.
Documents supplied by the commission show the Senate proposed $191.6 million in the first year and $213.7 million in year two. Meanwhile, the House proposed $370 million in year one and $382.1 million in year two for implementation.
Cooper included $725.6 million in the first year of his budget plan for implementation and $1.15 billion in the second year.
“It’s not only the amount of money. We’re being very strategic about where we’re spending it,” said Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, noting the General Assembly is not a party in the Leandro case.
It isn’t clear what action the judge would take if Oct. 18 arrives and the plan has not been implemented.
Moore pushed back on the idea that the judge would be able to compel the General Assembly to spend the money called for in the plan.
“I do not believe that any judge has the authority to tell the legislature how to tax or how to spend,” he said. “When it comes to budgets, they just don’t have that authority. They never have.”
Unlike in years past, Republican leaders plan to meet privately with Cooper before unveiling to the public what their budget proposal is. They want to see if they can resolve differences with him first.
If they can’t, they could bring their budget plan up for a vote and see if enough Democrats will join them to get a veto-proof majority.
“As we enter the new trilateral budget negotiations, that I will work as hard as I can for strong investments in this plan,” Cooper said. “We know that it will be difficult because we’ve seen comments made by certain legislators.