“We should ask ourselves, why are they fighting this hard to keep those dollars away from our kids?” asked Angus Thompson, one of the original plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro case.
North Carolina’s top Republicans filed a motion with the state Supreme Court this week to block the distribution of new education funding tied to the long-running Leandro case.
The plaintiffs in the case, which was first filed in 1994, want to improve educational opportunities by forcing the legislature to increase funding for public schools.
In November, the previously Democratic-majority North Carolina Supreme Court ordered the state to comply and transfer funds to enact the Leandro plan. The court directed a new trial judge in the case to determine how much money the schools receive and called on the state controller to distribute the funds despite Republicans’ opposition.
That state Supreme Court ruling found that the North Carolina constitution guarantees every child the right to a sound basic education, which takes precedence over the legislature’s control over state funds. It was the third time the state’s highest court sided with plaintiffs in the case and found that North Carolina isn’t meeting its constitutional duties to adequately educate children.
The Leandro improvement plan requires $1.75 billion in new funding during its second and third years, but the state budget lawmakers approved last year provided only about half that amount, according to estimates.
The first hearing to decide how much additional money spent is set to take place March 10 in Raleigh.
But now, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger are asking the Court—which is now composed of five Republicans and two Democrats following the November elections—to effectively overturn the Leandro ruling by reinstating a prior Appeals Court order blocking the transfer of new funds.
In a surprise, state Controller Nels Roseland has also filed his own motion asking the Court to block the transfer of any funds. In the filing, Roseland’s attorney questions whether the Court has jurisdiction over the state controller and whether his office could be liable for distributing funds without the approval of the legislature.
Gov. Roy Cooper, who appointed Roseland, issued a statement to the News & Observer, blasting the efforts to block the transfer of funds.
“Republican legislative leaders and the Controller are grasping frivolously at legal straws to dodge their constitutional duty,” Cooper said. “This is a baseless attack to delay action and avoid doing what’s right for North Carolina schoolchildren.”
Educational advocates also criticized the efforts to reverse the ruling and block additional funding.
In a press release, Every Child NC called the motions an “unimaginable effort in order to deny North Carolina’s students access to the bare minimum educational standards promised to them under our State Constitution.”
The organization cited North Carolina’s dismal education funding—which ranks 48th in the nation—and ongoing teacher shortages, mental health challenges, and growing racial and academic opportunity gaps as just some of the reasons more funding is needed.
“It’s unacceptable that elected officials would go to such extremes to deny our kids their basic education rights,” added Letha Muhammad, co-executive director of the Raleigh-based Education Justice Alliance. “It’s time for lawmakers to do their job and release the funds for Leandro mandated by our constitution.”
Other advocates highlighted the increasingly partisan actions of the state Supreme Court, warning that the erosion of an independent judicial system and the setting aside of legal precedent posed a grave threat to democracy.
“Our State Supreme Court has ruled on Leandro three times during the course of this long standing battle to finally uphold our own constitutional obligation to our children,” said Marcus Bass, deputy director of the North Carolina Black Alliance. “To roll back those gains now would be unacceptable.”
Angus Thompson, one of the original Leandro plaintiffs from Robeson county, also criticized the effort, criticizing it as an attack on North Carolina’s children.
“We should ask ourselves, why are they fighting this hard to keep those dollars away from our kids?” Thompson asked. “We have the money, we have the comprehensive plan and every parent in our state will tell you that we also have the need. I call on every decent North Carolinian who still believes our children are worth fighting for to stand up against this latest attack against them.”