North Carolina Supreme Court orders historic transfer of education funding

The North Carolina Supreme Court released its decision in the landmark Leandro case, ordering the state legislature to spend $1.75 billion on public school funding.

The the court ruled 4 to 3 in favor of fund a public school improvement plan across the state. The vote was split along party lines. Judge Robin Hudson, a Democrat, wrote the majority opinion and Judge Phil Berger Jr., a Republican, wrote the dissent.

“The state has proven – for an entire generation – unable or unwilling to perform its constitutional duty,” Hudson wrote. “Now this Court must determine whether this duty is a binding obligation or an unenforceable suggestion. We hold the first: the state cannot indefinitely violate the constitutional rights of North Carolina schoolchildren without consequence.

The Supreme Court decision upholds Superior Court Justice David LeeThe 2021 order to move $1.75 billion from state coffers to implement the education catch-up plan he approved earlier. The transfer had been blocked on appeal.

The comprehensive turnaround plan was part of a settlement between Attorney General Josh Stein’s office and low-income school districts that originally sued the state in 1994. These districts claimed that the state was not respecting children’s rights “to the privilege of education,” as granted in the state constitution.

In this Aug. 29, 2022 file photo, Angus Thompson – one of the original plaintiffs in the Leandro case – speaks at the Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh.

Republican House and Senate leaders in the General Assembly sought to overturn a lower court’s order to fund the settlement, appealing the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court. They say the case hinges on the separation of powers between branches of government, arguing that no court has the power to order the state legislature to spend taxpayers’ money.

“The state constitution explicitly recognizes that it is the responsibility of the General Assembly to make educational policy and provide for its funding in accordance with its legislative authority,” wrote Phil Berger, Jr. in his dissenting opinion.

Reacting to the state Supreme Court’s decision, Governor Cooper said in a statement, “It is our constitutional duty to ensure that every child has access to a solid basic education. As the North Carolina Supreme Court said today, we need to do more for our students across North Carolina.”

The court’s opinion today directs the General Assembly to fund the second and third years of an 8-year plan, at an estimated cost of around $1.75 billion. Certain items already adopted in part or in full in the last state budget would be taken into account in this total.

The plan would inject funds into teacher recruitment and support, early childhood education, teacher compensation and much more. It would increase school funding for low-income school districts, at-risk children and students with disabilities.

Two of the most important elements of the plan – for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 – are to increase the salaries of teachers and teaching staff and to fund “refresher” teachers who teach art, music and physical education.

A victory for education finance advocates

Tamika Walker Kelly poses at the Halifax Mall in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Tamika Walker Kelly is director of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Susan Book is the mother of a Wake County Public Schools student with a disability and a member of Every Child NC, a coalition of organizations and families who have advocated for full funding of Leandro’s global turnaround plan.

“We’re in tears, we’re celebrating, we’re tweeting, we’re on Facebook,” Book said. “We are pleased.”

Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, was among those celebrating on Friday.

“Today’s decision reaffirming that the General Assembly must fund the Leandro Education Plan is a victory for all who believe that all students, regardless of background, deserve to receive a fully funded education that empowers them. preparing for the future,” she said.

Republican leaders have yet to react to Friday’s decision.

North Carolina General Assembly leaders have yet to directly respond to the news of the order.

In a tweet, a senior policy attorney in Senate Leader Phil Berger’s office, Brent Woodcox, said Republicans would appeal the decision if the party wins a majority in the state Supreme Court in the next election.

“Prediction: Not a penny of taxpayers’ money is ultimately spent on this unprecedented and unconstitutional order before it is blocked and overturned by a newly installed North Carolina Supreme Court next year,” he said. tweeted Woodcox.

Two of the seats currently held by Democratic justices are in contention in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Book says she and other education funding advocates are concerned about whether lawmakers will comply with the order.

“I still have concerns,” Book said. “I’m from North Carolina and I’ve watched what I’ve watched over the years as our General Assembly attacked our education system.”

Angus Thompson of Lumberton, an original claimant with his daughter and member of Every Child NC urged caution.

“People across the state stood up for the rights of our children,” he said. “We protested, we prayed and now we vote. We need leaders to help us maintain this victory.

Whether the court’s Democratic majority decision moves funds to schools could depend on the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

The Associated Press and WUNC Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

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